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Facing a tiebreaker, longtime friends and rivals decide to share Olympic gold medal in high jump final

Sports don’t always have to be cutthroat. That’s the message high jumpers Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy hoped to send when they decided to share the gold medal in the men’s high jump final at the Tokyo Olympics.

When Mutaz, 30, and Gianmarco, 29, both failed to clear the last height, they were left with two choices. They can either have a jump-off for gold or share it.

The decision was a no-brainer for the pair. Even before the official had finished explaining the rule, Mutaz asked, “Can we have two golds?”

Rule 26.8.4 of the technical rules for World Athletics reads: “If no jump-off is carried out, including where the relevant athletes at any stage decide not to jump further, the tie for first place shall remain.”

It was pure coincidence that they failed to clear the same height on the same number of attempts. And neither of them had to say anything to know what the other was thinking during that critical moment.

“I looked at him, he looked at me, we understand,” Mutaz said later.

In a world where competition is intense, it’s rare for participants to want to share the victory. But both high jumpers —who both cleared 7 feet, 9 1/4 inches—thought sharing the Olympic gold was the best decision.

“We just enjoyed the moment because we wanted it so much,” Gianmarco said.

It was, indeed, a wonderful demonstration of true sportsmanship.

The two high jumpers have been friends for over a decade now. They first met at the World Junior Championships in Moncton, New Brunswick, in 2010. Mutaz won the title there, while Gianmarco failed to qualify for the final.

Even though they had very different outcomes during the competition, Mutaz and Gianmarco soon became fast friends. They hung out before, after, and during various international competitions.

“In the track, we are opponents, but still supporting each other, Gianmarco said. “We want to win, we want to beat each other — but still, we know how hard it is to do this sport, how many sacrifices you have to do.”

The pair have also been each other’s support system in recent years.

In 2016, Gianmarco was training for the Rio Olympics when he tore a ligament in his ankle. That year, he watched the high jump final from the stands with tears in his eyes and crutches at his side. A doctor told him he might not be able to compete again.

Two years later, Mutaz suffered a similar injury, also to his left ankle. Having suffered the same, Gianmarco helped him get through it.

“The injury was so bad that we couldn’t actually imagine coming back to jump,” Mutaz said. “… Mentally, physically, what we’ve been through — he knows, I know, it takes so much.”

Field events like the high jump have competitors spending a lot of time together. It’s natural for friendships to emerge, but the one that Mutaz and Gianmarco shared was deeper. Gianmarco was at Mutaz’s wedding, and he said that Mutaz will be at his.

They most recently met up in June during the Diamond League meet in Italy. Aside from competing together, Mutaz went out to dinner with Gianmarco, his girlfriend, and his family. The friends also keep in touch a lot, calling each other every 10 days or so.

Gianmarco said winning the Olympic gold with Mutaz was “magical,” especially because he shared this triumph with one of his best friends.

“Not because I don’t respect the others. I respect all the high jumpers that were there,” Gianmarco said. “But Mutaz passed through the same problem as me, and I know what it means to come back from that injury. I know how frustrating it is.”

They plan to celebrate their gold medals together at some point, and Mutaz anticipates that it’s going to be “something crazy.”

Watch the video below to learn more about Mutaz and Gianmarco’s rare Olympic gold win.

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