TOKYO (AP) – A surfer jumping to translate for the rival who had just beaten him. Friends of the high jump agreeing to share a gold medal rather than going to a tiebreaker. Two runners falling into a tangle of legs, then helping each other to the finish line.
In an extraordinary Olympic Games where mental health has been the center of attention, acts of kindness are everywhere. The world’s most competitive athletes have been captured showing gentleness and warmth to each other – celebrating, speaking of encouragement, wiping away tears of disappointment from each other.
Japan’s Kanoa Igarashi was disappointed when he lost to Brazilian Italo Ferreira in their sport‘s Olympic debut.
Not only did he miss his shot for gold on the beach where he grew up surfing, but he was also taunted online by racist Brazilian trolls.
The Japanese-American surfer could have simmered in silence, but instead he deployed his knowledge of Portuguese, helping translate a press conference question for Ferreira onto the world stage.
The crowd laughed as they heard the cross translation and an official thanked the silver medalist for the help.
âYes, thank you, Kanoa,â said beaming Ferreira, who is learning English.
A few days later, at the Olympic stadium, the Italian Gianmarco Tamberi and the Qatari Mutaz Barshim found themselves in a situation they had spoken of but had never experienced: they were on an equal footing.
Both high jumpers were perfect until the bar was set at the Olympic record height of 2.39 meters (7 feet, 10 inches). Each failed three times.
They could have gone to the dam, but instead decided to share the gold.
âI know for a fact that for the performance I made, I deserve this gold medal. He did the same, so I know he deserved that gold, âBarshim said. âIt’s beyond sport. This is the message we are delivering to the younger generation.
After deciding, Tamberi slapped Barshim’s hand and jumped into his arms.
âSharing with a friend is even more beautiful,â Tamberi said. “It was just magic.”
Earlier on the same track, runners Isaiah Jewett of the United States and Nijel Amos of Botswana got tangled and fell in the 800m semi-finals. Rather than getting angry, they helped each other up, hugged each other, and ended up together.
Many top athletes know each other personally from their time on the road, which can seem long, focused and intense – marked by career moments that may be the best or the worst of their lives.
These feelings were often magnified during the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Games, where there is an undeniable desire for normalcy and, perhaps, a new appreciation for seeing familiar faces.
Restrictions designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have prevented Olympians from mingling as they normally do.
After a relentless three-set victory in Saturday’s beach volleyball round robin final at Shiokaze Park, Brazilian Rebecca Cavalcanti playfully poured a water bottle over the back of American Kelly Claes as ‘she was doing post-game interviews.
The US team had just beaten Brazil but the winners didn’t care, explaining that they were friends.
âI’m excited when quarantine is over so we can sit at the same table and go to dinner with them. But it’s a bit hard in a bubble because we have to be absent, âsaid Sarah Sponcil, Claes teammate.
For her compatriot Carissa Moore, the pandemic and the restrictions that come with it have brought her closer to other surfers.
The reigning world champion said she usually goes to surfing competitions with her husband and dad. But all fans were banned this year, and Moore admitted she struggled without their reassuring presence in the early days of the Games.
Moore had flown to Japan with the U.S. team 10 days before the first round and quickly got used to living in a house with the other surfers, including Caroline Marks, whom Moore saw as the woman to beat.
Moore said she didn’t know Marks well before the Tokyo Games, but the night she was crowned the winner and Marks came fourth, her rival was the first to greet her.
âHaving the USA Surf team with me was such a great experience bonding with them,â said Moore. “I feel like I have a whole different family after the last two weeks.”
After last week’s grueling women’s triathlon in Tokyo, Norway’s Lotte Miller, who placed 24, took a moment to give a pep talk to Belgian Claire Michel, inconsolable and slumped to the ground sobbing.
Michel came last, 15 minutes behind winner Flora Duffy of Bermuda – but at least she finished. Fifty-four athletes took the start of the race, but 20 were overtaken or abandoned.
âYou are an (expletive) fighter,â Miller told Michel. “It’s the Olympic spirit, and you have it 100%.”
Associated Press reporters Pat Graham, Jimmy Golen and Jim Vertuno contributed.
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