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April 15, 2024
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Tokyo 2020 Olympics: Friendship Gold Medal.

Qatar’s Mutaz-Essa Barshim and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi failed to clear the last height in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics men’s high jump final, they were left with a seemingly difficult decision, a jump-off for one gold or sharing the title of Olympic champion. The jumpers chose the latter, and their longtime friendship explains why.

Their friendship arose during the 2010 world junior championships in New Brunswick — an event won by Barshim, but grew even deeper in 2018 after they shared struggle. In 2018 Barshim suffered a severe left ankle injury, one Tamberi dealt with himself right before the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Tamberi, who returned to competition after doctor’s questioned his ability to do so immediately after the injury, helped Barshim bounce back as strong as he did.

“The injury was so bad that we couldn’t actually imagine coming back to jump,” Barshim said to journalists, Mentally, physically, what we’ve been through, he knows, I know, it takes so much.”

As if the return to injury storyline wasn’t inspirational enough, the pair also said they decided to share gold medals to prove winning shouldn’t always mean mentally breaking down the competition. Tamberi admitted, though, it helped that Barshim was the one opposite him in this situation.

“Not because I don’t respect the others,” Tamberi said, “I respect all the high jumpers that were there,” he said. “But Mutaz passed through the same problem as me, and I know what it means to come back from that injury. I know how frustrating it is.”

Both Barshim, 30, and the 29-year-old Tamberi cleared 2.37 metres on Sunday evening. Facing the prospect of a jump-off to decide the winner, they persuaded organisers to let them share the triumph.

After climbing onto the podium together, Barshim and Tamberi presented the gold medals to each other amid more hugs and switched places to face their flags when each national anthem was played.

“He is one of my best friends, not only on the track but outside the track and we remain froends forever,” Barshim said on Sunday. “We work together. This is a dream come true. It is the true spirit, the sportsman spirit, and we are here delivering this message.”

It was the first time since the 1912 Olympics that a gold medal was shared in athletics, in both pentathlon and decathlon at the Stockholm Games.

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