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Sportsmanship shines at the Olympics

A few weeks ago I wrote about the uncertainty surrounding this year’s Olympic games (officially still branded “Tokyo 2020” despite being a year late). As I noted then, there’s a big shadow of swirling controversy cast over these Olympics, much of which was caused by the ongoing pandemic.

But the games have gone on as scheduled so far, and without too much interruption. Some athletes have tested positive for COVID-19 and have had to miss competition, but thankfully not too many. It seems many are taking the virus seriously and following procedures to mitigate exposure and spread.

Before the Olympics started, I was a bit wary about how things were going to go. But now, almost at the end of competition, I’ve been able to enjoy watching as many events as possible. I can’t speak for everyone, but my favorite part of the Olympics isn’t about seeing who wins the medals, but seeing good sportsmanship along the way. I enjoy seeing the competitors, regardless of their nationality, congratulate each other afterwards. I enjoy seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces, knowing they got to participate in sports at the highest level, regardless of how they finished.

In case you haven’t been keeping up, here are a few heartwarming stories so far from this round of the Olympics:

Swimming doesn’t often have a lot of upsets. The favorites usually end up in the top spots at the end of each race. But the men’s 400-meter freestyle results shook things up a bit like waves in the pool. Tunisia’s Ahmed Hafnaoui, who was the slowest qualifier for the final swim, surprised everyone with a last-minute surge to win gold. No one was expecting that. Not me who was watching the race live on TV, and certainly not Hafnaoui who seemed just about as shocked as everyone else. It was almost impossible to watch his interview after the race and not smile at his enthusiasm over the unexpected turn of events.

It’s always sweet to see families carry on the legacy of competing at the Olympics, and even sweeter when they’re competing at the same games… and even the same sport. Hifumi and Uta Abe, a brother and sister duo from Japan, both won gold medals for the host country in the judo competitions. Uta credited her brother for the support, saying that she wasn’t sure she would have even started learning judo without him.

The Philippines scored their first gold ever thanks to Hidilyn Diaz, a weightlifter who lifted 224 kilograms in her competition, setting an Olympic record. This was her fourth time competing at the Olympics, improving each time she attended. The coolest thing about seeing her hard work pay off? Diaz got stuck in Malaysia last year due to pandemic lockdowns, so she continued her training there by lifting jugs of water with bamboo sticks. That’s some pretty awesome perseverance.

People who keep up with the diving competitions are probably familiar with the name Tom Daly. He’s represented Great Britain for several Olympics now with great results. But apart from his diving achievements, he also got some attention for his knitting. Daly was spotted multiple times happily knitting on the sidelines as he watched other diving competitions get underway. He posts photos of his work on Instagram and then sells them for charity. I’ve heard knitting is good stress relief, so I can understand why it might be a fun hobby for an athlete at the Olympics.

For the United States, Tamyra Mensah-Stock became the first Black woman to win a wrestling gold for our country at the Olympics. Her opponent in the final, Blessing Oborududu of Nigeria, was also the first Nigerian to medal in wrestling. Mensah-Stock sounded so thrilled in this quote she gave to the Associated Press: “I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, look at us representing.’ It’s so freaking awesome. You’re making history, I’m making history. We’re making history. So it meant a lot.”

A sweet moment took place with the winners of the women’s 200-meter backstroke. Two Australian swimmers were on the podium: Kaylee McKeown with gold and Emily Seebohm with bronze. Even though McKeown had the top spot, she got Seebohm to stand beside her on the podium’s top step while their anthem played. It was a lovely way to cap off the final swim of Seebohm’s Olympic career.

But my favorite Olympic moment so far came from the men’s high jump competition. The top two contenders, Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy, were both able to get perfect scores for their jumps (at about 7.8 feet). But neither could successfully get higher than that. When the officials said they’d do a “jump-off” to determine the gold medalist, Barshim asked if they could both just win the gold. The answer was yes, and then they “jumped for joy” about their joint win. The two were already close friends, having met up at several previous international competitions, but now they’re a shining example of good sportsmanship too.

And these are only just a few examples of inspiring and heartwarming moments bringing people together through the spirit of competition. In the end, I just like to see everyone having a good time. Plenty of people might say the point of the Olympics is to showcase skills and capture glory while making history. But I say, it’s simply a wonderful way to bring the world together.

I look forward to seeing everyone remain safe as the games conclude.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.