In a different publication we might call this story, “This cross-country skier fell, and what happened next will restore your faith in humanity.” In this one we’ll admit that it will certainly rekindle your Olympic spirit.
Russian cross-country skier Anton Gafarov was about a minute and a half into the men’s sprint free semifinals race when he fell. Hard. When he got up, he was struggling his way down the course on a broken ski, pushing himself along using only his poles for momentum. Just trying to finish.
“This is what the Olympic spirit is all about,” says the commentator on NBC’s stream, admiring the determination.
As he hits the downhill stretch into the stadium, Gafarov falls again. This time the ski looks shredded. “Can he keep going?” asks the commentator. “Will he?” Gafarov gets back up, now balanced on one ski.
And then, a man runs onto the course and, with the efficiency of a NASCAR pit crew, swaps out the broken ski for a new one so Gafarov can ski his way across the finish line – to uproarious applause.
That man was not Gafarov’s coach or teammate. Instead it was rival coach Justin Wadsworth, of Canada’s team, who ran out to help the struggling skier.
“I wanted him to have dignity as he crossed the finish line,” Wadsworth was quoted by the CBC as saying.
Both Wadsworth and Gafarov must have known that changing skis on the course is against the rules of international competition. But in that moment it seemed not to matter. “It’s kind of like seeing an animal in a trap,” Wadsworth said. “I just couldn’t let him sit there.”
That is what the Olympic spirit is all about.
By the way, you may remember that something like this has happened before. Here’s the women’s team sprint at the 2006 Turin Games, where Norwegian head coach Bjørnar Håkensmoen lent a ski pole to Canada’s Sarah Renner after hers broke.
The gesture essentially ensured Renner and the Canadian team would medal while Norway would not.
And how’s this for the Olympic spirit? Sarah Renner’s teammate in that race was a woman named Beckie Scott … Justin Wadsworth’s wife.