This Spanish runner proved that sometimes, winning isn’t always the goal in sports.
During the Burlada Cross Country Race in Navarra, Spain, in December 2012, Ivan Fernandez Anaya could have reached the finish line first, but he chose not to.
Instead, he purposefully slowed down to tell his opponent—Kenyan Abel Kiprop Mutai, who had been in the lead—to continue running when he mistakenly thought he had crossed the finish line.
Abel, who didn’t understand Spanish, got confused by the signs and stopped running about 10 meters before the end. He looked back and saw that people were telling him to keep going, but he didn’t quite understand what they were actually saying.
That pause could have been Ivan’s opportunity to overtake him and win the gold. But when he realized what was happening, Ivan caught up with Abel and guided him to the actual finish line.
“I didn’t deserve to win it,” Ivan, who came in second, said. “I did what I had to do. He was the rightful winner. He created a gap that I couldn’t have closed if he hadn’t made a mistake. As soon as I saw he was stopping, I knew I wasn’t going to pass him.”
As soon as they finished the race, Abel turned around and shook Ivan’s hand, clearly grateful for his actions that led to his win.
Although he didn’t win first place, Ivan, who mostly runs cross country and marathon events, has captured the hearts of many with his honesty. He proved that winning isn’t always the most important thing; being honest is.
When a reporter asked him why he did that, Ivan said: “My dream is that one day we can have some sort of community life where we push ourselves and also others to win.”
“I didn’t let him win, he was going to win. The race was his,” he added.
When the reporter said, “But you could have won!” Ivan had a simple response that further demonstrated his impressive character and sportsmanship.
“But what would be the merit of my victory? What would be the honor of that medal? What would my Mom think of that?”
Ivan’s coach, Martín Fiz, thought it was a fantastic gesture but admitted he would have taken advantage of the situation if it were him.
Ivan was close to entering the Spanish cross country team at the time, so he might have cost himself an important step in his running career when he chose fairness over victory. But it didn’t worry him one bit.
“I also think that I have earned more of a name having done what I did than if I had won. And that is very important, because today, with the way things are in all circles, in soccer, in society, in politics, where it seems anything goes, a gesture of honesty goes down well,” he said.
We couldn’t agree more. Indeed, victory is only sweet when it’s rightfully earned. Ivan knew that, so he chose to do the right thing during the race. What he did makes him a true champion!
Here’s a video showing Ivan guiding Abel toward the finish line.
View this post on Instagram
Almost nine years and a pandemic later, this story of true sportsmanship continues to inspire many. Please share this with your friends and family.