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A shared gold medal and an Olympic knitter: The most heartwarming moments from the Olympics so far


by Sarah Finnan
03rd Aug 2021

Gianmarco Tamberi

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Our eyes were glued to the Olympics coverage over the long weekend as we watched some of the crème de la crème of the sporting world compete to take home the gold.

However, entertaining as each individual competition is, it’s often the more human moments/reactions that make the Games for us… Tom Daley unwinding with a poolside knitting session, for example.

Only one of many standout memories from Tokyo 2020 so far, there are plenty of others to speak of and while it would be easy to focus on the competition’s downfalls, the positives deserve airtime too. From Ahmed Hafnaoui’s family celebrating his unprecedented gold medal win to the Philippines getting their national anthem played at the Games for the first time, it’s the feel-good stories that remind us just how much the Olympics can mean to competitors. 

Gold medallist and star knitter 

One of the most well-known athletes of recent years, Tokyo 2020 marks Tom Daley’s fourth time competing at the Olympics… but Beijing, London and Rio pale in comparison to this year’s success which saw the diver finally win his first gold medal alongside partner Matty Lee. Beating out stiff competition from China’s Chen Aisen and Cao Yuan, the duo secured their victory with a top score of 471.81 – just 1.23 points ahead of their Chinese competitors. 

Overcome with emotion at finally achieving what he had long been working toward, a teary Daley – who came out as gay back in 2013 – said that he is “incredibly proud” of how far he’s come. 

“I feel incredibly proud to say that I am a gay man and also an Olympic champion. When I was younger I didn’t think I’d ever achieve anything because of who I was. To be an Olympic champion now just shows that you can achieve anything,” he told fans.

“In terms of out athletes, there are more openly out athletes at these Olympic Games than any Olympic Games previously. I came out in 2013 and when I was younger I always felt like the one that was alone and different and didn’t fit. There was something about me that was never going to be as good as what society wanted me to be. I hope that any young LGBT person out there can see that no matter how alone you feel right now, you are not alone. You can achieve anything,” he later added. 

Turns out he’s more than just a talented athlete though and has quite the flair for knitting too. Already giving followers a look at the Olympic-themed cosy he knit to save his gold medal from being scratched, the diver was spotted working on a new project over the weekend – using his downtime at the women’s three-metre springboard final to make a purple doggy jumper. Too wholesome. 

Sharing is caring

Even if you weren’t watching the Olympics coverage over the weekend, you’re still likely to have heard about the touching moment between Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi and Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim. Amongst the competitors in the men’s high jump final on Sunday night, both athletes managed to clear 2.37 metres but were unable to get over the 2.39 metre mark. Each with three failed attempts at the latter height, an Olympic official stepped in to offer them a jump-off which would decide who the champion would be. 

But Barshim decided to chance his arm, asking “Can we have two golds?” instead. Given the green light to forgo the jump-off and share the victory, the athletes locked in a tight embrace at the news and their joy was almost palpable. The first joint Olympic podium in athletics since 1912, not only was it an impressive display of sportsmanship but it’s also likely to be one of the most enduring moments of this year’s action. 

“I look at him, he looks at me, and we know it,” Barshim said of their choice to share the gold. “We just look at each other and we know, that is it, it is done. There is no need.”

“He is one of my best friends, not only on the track, but outside the track. We work together,” Barshim added, later going on to describe their victory as “a dream come true”. “It is the true spirit, the sportsman spirit, and we are here delivering this message,” he finished.

End of a 13-year medal drought

Ask American athlete Brittney Reese who the greatest long-jumper of all time is and she’s steadfast in her response. “I am. Point blank,” she replied to the question after winning silver in her fourth and last Olympics over the weekend. In fact, she considers herself “the Usain Bolt of long jump”. “I’ve got 11 medals, individual medals at that. No long jumper has done that, male or female,” she later added. “If I was on the trackside of the sport, I would be the Usain Bolt of long jump, but just being in the field event side just doesn’t get the attention it deserves.”

But while Reese’s achievements are nothing to be laughed at, she was overshadowed by Ese Brume at this year’s Games. The bronze medal winner in the women’s long jump competition, her victory marks Nigeria’s first medal at Tokyo 2020 and the country’s first athletics medal at the Olympics in 13 years. Already having jumped a distance of 7.17 metres at the Chule Vista Festival in California in May this year (shattering a 25-year record previously held by Chioma Ajunwa), Brume’s jump was the world lead going into the Olympics. 

Ecstatic at having won her first Olympic honour, Brume told reporters, “This medal means a lot to me. It doesn’t matter the colour.” Dedicating the win to Bishop Oyedepo, she continued by saying, “I’m super excited that I made it to the top three at the Olympics. Honestly, I can’t contend with my joy.

Fall down seven times, stand up eight

The world watched with bated breath as Dutch star Sifan Hassan fell to the ground during her 1,500 metre heat over in Tokyo this weekend. Still with 380 metres to go before finishing the race, the athlete had plenty of ground to make up if she was to proceed to the next round… but, amazingly, she did it! Picking herself back up and making the 25 metres to secure the win on the final lap of the women’s heats, she most definitely had her eyes on the prize and sped past several other runners on the home stretch.

Finishing the race in just over four minutes, her recovery means that she’s still on course for achieving her lofty goal of winning gold in the 1,500 metres, 5,000 metres and 10,000-metre – something no woman in Olympic history has ever even dared to attempt. In fact, few men have won more than two distance events at the Olympics either. But that doesn’t seem to phase Hassan who said that following her heart is what keeps her motivated. Already securing the victory in the 5,000 metre competition, she has a busy week ahead of her with races on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. 

World’s fastest man

Italy’s Lamont Marcell Jacobs was crowned the winner of the men’s 100 metre final this weekend, setting a new European record in the process. Still quite new to the sport, Jacobs only switched over from the long jump in 2018 but it’s safe to say that the risk was worth it. Succeeding Usain Bolt as the world’s fastest man, Jacobs was considered to be the underdog in the competition but he stole the victory from right under his competitor’s noses – streaking past Team USA’s Fred Kerley 20 metres before the finish line. 

“It is amazing, it is fantastic, it is a dream, Olympic champion in the 100m, I have no words,” Jacobs gushed following his surprise win. “It is a gold medal, it is forever, I am very happy.” As thrilled about Gianmarco Tamberi’s win as he was his own, Jacobs later added that, “watching Gianmarco was a massive boost”. “I thought, ‘If he can do it, you can win a gold medal too’”. 

Somehow managing to tune the rest of the noise out and just focus on “running as fast as possible”, Jacobs said that he was happy with his finishing time of 9.8 seconds… though he did think he could do it in 9.79 seconds. “As an athlete you can’t always win. I have lost a lot of times. But I have always turned up again trying to deliver a better performance. And now I can say I have a gold medal,” he finished.

Standing ovation

Just as Daley’s historic performance was celebrated, so too was that of Oksana Chusovitina – the oldest competing gymnast at this year’s Games. Hailing from Bukhara in Uzbekistan, Tokyo 2020 marked 46-year-old Chusovitina’s eighth (and final) consecutive Olympic appearance. Confirming that this would be the end of her illustrious 30-year career, it was a bittersweet goodbye for the gymnast who bowed out of competition last month after not scoring high enough to proceed. 

Waving to the onlookers with tears in her eyes, she was met with overwhelming support from the crowd though, who stood to applaud her achievements and see her out on a high. 

“It was really nice. I cried tears of happiness because so many people have supported me for a long time,” the gymnast told reporters afterwards. “I didn’t look at the results, but I feel very proud and happy. I’m saying goodbye to sports. It’s kind of mixed feelings.”

Sing it loud, sing it proud 

In another historic first for the games, Hidilyn Diaz secured the Philippines their first gold medal ever last month. Establishing herself as the one to watch in the women’s 55k weightlifting category, Diaz lifted a combined weight of 224kg – an Olympic record. 

Her fourth time competing at the Olympics, her win was a huge milestone for her home country who also had their national anthem played at the Games for the first time as a result. Lavishing praise on the athlete for bringing “pride and glory” to the Philippines, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque congratulated Diaz for her win, later adding that “the entire Filipino nation is proud” of her. 

“I am 30 years old and I thought it would be like going down, my performance, but I was shocked I was able to do it,” Diaz said in a post-match interview. 

Winning a gold medal is a huge achievement in and of itself but Diaz’s success is made all the more impressive when you learn of her training programme over the last year. Stuck in Malaysia where she stopped on her way to Peru for an Olympic qualifying event, the athlete remained stuck there for five months due to a government-imposed travel ban. Constructing her own home gym and working out with water bottles, it’s clear that her dedication to the sport certainly paid off.  

“It’s hard but we survive, still living the dream in my heart,” she wrote at the time, also sharing a video of her makeshift home gym. 

From refugee to Olympian

Perhaps one of the most inspiring stories to come of this year’s Olympics, Yusra Mardini stands as a beacon of hope for all those who may be struggling. First capturing the world’s attention with her remarkable story at Rio 2016, Yusra Mardini revealed that her Olympic debut “changed the way” she thinks about the word “refugee”. 

Competing for the international refugee team for the second time, the swimmer admitted that this Games is “even more emotional” for her. Lagging behind the world’s best by more than 10 seconds, her swim times are probably the least interesting thing about her though and it’s her backstory that really captured hearts. 

Making the arduous 25-day long voyage from Syria to Germany, Mardini literally had to swim for her life when crossing the Mediterranean. Speaking of the journey Mardini said, “We were on a dinghy that was supposed to be for vacation. Only seven people are allowed on it, but we were 20 people. Usually, it’s like 10km, so it takes round about 45 minutes in these small dinghies. The boat was already broken somehow and after 15 minutes the motor stopped; it didn’t work anymore.

“My sister jumped in the water from one side, and I jumped from the other side which she wasn’t very happy about. She started screaming at me to go up to the boat even though we were both swimmers.

“After that, two guys also jumped from either side, and we tried with one hand to put it on the rope and then do kicks to stabilise the boat and so on. That took us three hours and a half until we reached the shore.”

Finally arriving at the Greecian island of Lesbos, she and her family travelled through a further seven countries before arriving in Germany, where she now lives. Carrying the Olympic flag at the head of the refugee team (together with Tochlowini Gabriyesos) during this year’s march-in, the swimmer’s next big plans include getting a German passport, focusing on her studies, and opening a swimming pool. 

A family affair

Another feel-good moment that had us reaching for the tissues, Ahmed Hafnaoui’s family showed us what the Olympics are really all about with their celebration of his unprecedented gold medal win. Stunning the world with his 400m freestyle win last month, a video of his family watching him swim his way to victory went viral online and you’ll be hard-pressed to keep your composure when watching it. 

Never considered to be one of the gold medal contenders, Hafnaoui barely qualified for the final – finishing two seconds behind the winner of the heat. But his performance blew his competitors out of the water (almost literally) and his family absolutely lost it upon seeing him edge his way closer to the gold.

Securing Tunisia’s first gold win of the 2021 Olympics, he became just the second Tunisian swimmer to place first with his gold medal only one of three others won by Tunisia in the pool. As shocked as his family were at having nabbed the top spot, he said, “I just can’t believe it, it’s amazing. I felt better in the water this morning than yesterday and that’s it. I’m the Olympic champion now.”

“It’s unbelievable. I didn’t believe it until I touched the wall and saw my face first. I saw the Australian guy from lane six, I guess in the 200m. It was a great fight at the end. I’m feeling great. I am feeling proud.”

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