In Books, Olympics, Sports

How important is an Olympic medal to athletes? That’s like asking how important life to you is. It means the World to them. That’s why this story of an athlete giving away his Olympic medal to his competitor is fantastic. It’s a story that truly reflects the Olympic spirit of sportsmanship.

Let’s rewind back to the 2008 Beijing Olympic games. It’s the 200 meters finals. Usain Bolt is the toast of the Games. The World expects another world record from him after he shattered the 100 meters record. Almost on cue, Usain Bolt sets another world record in 200 meters.

When everyone’s eyes were on Usain Bolt, what the World nearly missed was the drama with second and third place winners. Wallace Spearman, who came in third, was midway through celebrating his bronze medal when an official told him he was disqualified.

After a couple of hours after the race (and the medal ceremony) was finished, another shocker followed. Churandy Martina from Netherlands Antilles was disqualified for stepping on the lane line and was stripped off his silver medal.

What this meant was Shawn Crawford, who came in fourth in the race, became the silver medallist. Shawn was shocked but delighted. Who wouldn’t want an Olympic medal? He had been dreaming of this his whole life.

After his unexpected win, many TV stations got Shown on their show. They would request him to bring his silver medal along with him for it makes for good visuals. However, he felt uncomfortable showing it. He felt deep in his heart he did not deserve it.

Shawn did something extraordinary. Something that you never expect an athlete to do. Here is that unique story.

Shawn never felt right about his medal. He didn’t earn the medal. He only won it because the other two competitors were disqualified. But more important than that, he thought about the agony that Churandy must have gone through. That silver medal is only the second Olympic medal ever for the small country of Netherlands Antilles. (Two years later, the country would get split into separate countries). You can imagine how important this medal must have been for Churandy and his countrymen.

Shawn spoke about the pain and humiliation that Churandy must have gone through. After winning the race, Churandy took a lap of honour. He got up on the podium. He etched his name in the record books. He made all the TV headlines. He was celebrated as a hero in his country. Two hours later, all that came crashing down. Shawn felt really bad for Churandy. He cannot take credit at the expense of someone else’s pain.

A week later, both Shawn and Churandy participated in another athletics event in Switzerland. He took the box with the Olympic silver medal and approached the hotel reception where Churandy was staying. He wrote a note and kept it in the box. It read, “Churandy, I know this can’t replace the moment, but I want you to have this because I believe its rightfully yours.” He requested them to deliver this to the room where Churandy was staying.

Shawn said he feels this is the right decision. He feels lighter without the burden of carrying a medal he does not deserve. Churandy had beaten him fair and square. He was 0.14 seconds faster than him, a big margin by Olympic standards. Churandy may have broken the Olympic rules by stepping on the line, but he did not impede other athletes’ runs. It’s a harsh punishment. While he may not be able to make the Olympic committee change the decision, he did what was well within his powers. He handed over the silver medal to the deserving person.

This was an amazing show of sportsmanship. Shawn won even though he lost. A lesson on compassion and respect that we all need to learn from Shawn’s selfless act.