Real sporting heroes understand first ethos of sport - sportsmanship

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 August, 2008, 12:00am

According to the IOC, the Pierre de Coubertin medal 'is one of the noblest honours that can be bestowed upon an Olympic athlete'.

The medal is also known as the True Spirit of Sportsmanship medal. The fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt, won't be awarded one in the near future.

The Jamaican sensation ran into trouble with his celebrations after winning the 100m and 200m gold medals with world records.

'That's not the way we perceive being a champion,' said IOC president Jacques Rogge.

As we reported last Sunday after the lightning Bolt's 100m sprint into the history books in the Bird's Nest, he started his celebrations 10 metres out from the finish line and started tapping his chest, urging the world to look at him.

'Apparently mocking his rivals with his nonchalance,' we wrote.

On Wednesday night he did the same, putting his face up to a TV camera, raising an index finger and yelling as he danced, 'I am number one! I am number one!'.

He won the adulation of the crowd with another lap wrapped in a Jamaican flag as the reggae music played, fooling around, immersed as he was in the celebrations over his amazing achievement.

But he ignored his competitors, those he had left for dust.

He did not turn back to shake their hands, pat them on the back, or hug them as brothers in arms should, those who had fought the good fight these past few years, too - the daily training, toil and sweat, to make it into the final of an Olympics.

Bolt, for all his good intentions and amazing feats, displayed the dreaded cancer that has ruined soccer and basketball, and which now threatens to engulf this last frontier where the amateur ideals remain intact.

There is nothing at all wrong in an athlete's admiration of his or her own super-human attributes.

An injection or two of narcissism is vital if one is to make it as a champion. But the real sporting heroes understand first the all-important ethos of sport - sportsmanship.

This is the good manners - the very morality - of sport where fair play, sportsmanship, and character define a champion.

And on becoming the best, you take on responsibilities. Paramount is the example you set to the people inspired by you. And they are, in the main, the young.

The real winners are those who temper their ego and gratification with modesty - even if it is forced.

Which is preferred - the naked emotions of surprise, wonder, utter joy and pure happiness, such as that symbolically displayed by the smile of 400m winner Christine Ohuruogu?

Or do we now expect our Olympic sporting heroes to default to those distasteful MTV manners - the egomaniacal etiquette of the millionaire's poolside party, where bling and hedonism collide in an ugly, gluttonous, celebration of the 'me, myself and I'.

Bolt's jubilation was hard won and deserved. But it did smack of self-aggrandising and at the expense of others, and it is this perceived mocking of the losers and runners-up that so annoyed Rogge, an athlete of the old school, and, let be noted, a fan of that sport where sportsmanship is celebrated - rugby.

'I have no problem with him doing a show,' Rogge said. 'I think he should show more respect for his competitors and shake hands, give a tap on the shoulder to the other ones immediately after the finish and not make gestures like the one he made in the 100 metres,' he added.

Winning an Olympic gold is not an easy task, and evidently, celebrating such a win also requires training - and maturity, Rogge noted.

'I understand the joy... Bolt might have interpreted that in another way, but the way it was perceived was 'catch me if you can'. You don't do that. But he'll learn. He's still a young man,' said the IOC chief.

The Pierre de Coubertin medal is not awarded at every Games. It is given to those rare Olympians who inspire with their selflessness, as opposed to self-absorption.

Only 10 have been handed out since the first was awarded posthumously to German long jumper Lutz Long, who competed against US icon Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Having fouled on two attempts in the preliminaries, Owens needed to make his last jump to go on and win his third gold medal of the Games.

Long advised the dejected Owens to jump from a spot well behind the line, a departure point that would still ensure he advanced.

The advice worked, and Owens went on to win the gold medal in the long jump with 8.06 metres, beating Long's record of 7.87m.

The German won silver and then came 10th in his other shot at gold in the triple jump.

The MTV generation might mock the advice given. But, like Bolt and others, they too will mature.

Winners of Pierre de Coubertin medal: 10