From Daring Sea Rescues To Shunning Hitler: The Greatest Acts Of Sportsmanship

We remember the best acts of fair play in sporting history
16:00, 02 Jul 2020

Nothing warms the cockles and brings a lump to the throat as seeing, hearing or regaling acts of sportsmanship that are as welcome as the flowers in May. Association football usually garners the most attention, whether that be due to its popularity, the relative rarity of visible gamesmanship, or contrast to the usual bastardry which, more-often-than-not, plagues the world’s most-played sport. Everybody now knows about the usually discordant Paolo Di Canio winning a FIFA Fair Play Award for catching the ball instead of scoring for West Ham in order for the injured Everton goalkeeper Paul Gerrard to receive treatment. 

The historic and much-lauded Corinthian Football Club placed their primary ethos on executing the highest form of gamesmanship, having a particular disdain for penalties so much so their goalkeeper would simply stand aside to let their rivals have free reign, or blast their own efforts over if they themselves had been awarded. But outside of football, there are a plethora of less heard of acts that epitomise ‘The Corinthian Spirit’...

 

Luz Long

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In one of the most fabled tales in the Modern Olympic Games, Luz Long wasn’t just an incredible athlete - to paraphrase one Eddie Hearn, that man had a serious set of b*llocks on him. In front of Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Göring, Rudolf Hess, Heinrich Himmler, and Adolf Hitler himself, the German chose to defy the Third Reich in order to assist his competitor, the great Jesse Owens, as the two battled for supremacy in the long jump at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Of course, Owens would defy Nazi German’s ideology of Aryan supremacy, with his haul of four golds at the Games, with one gained with the assistance of a member of the host nation.

Owens had to qualify for the event with a distance of 7.15m. He had previously set a record of 8.13m. However, earlier that day, having won his 200m qualifying round in an Olympic record of 21.1 seconds, Owens didn’t see the long jump judges raising their flags to indicate the start of competition and a practice run to inspect the long jump route was taken as the first of his three qualifying efforts. He then fouled on his second attempt. Owens had one more chance to qualify but at this point was distracted. 

Owens was approached by the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Long. “Glad to meet you,” said Owens, “How are you?” 

“I'm fine,” replied Long. “The question is, how are you?”

“What do you mean?” asked Owen.

“Something must be eating you,” said Long, "You should be able to qualify with your eyes closed.”

Long suggested that, as the qualifying distance was only 7.15m, Owens should shift his mark back to ensure that he took off well short of the board to avoid the possibility of fouling again. Owens took his rival’s advice, smashed the qualifying on his third and final attempt, and the two competed in the final that same day, with them breaking a host of previous Olympics records. Owens eventually won, Long got silver, Hitler rose and left the stadium, and the two men walked out the arena arm-in-arm.

The two gentleman athletes kept in touch until Luz was later killed in action during the Second World War, aged 30, in 1943.

 

Ivan Fernandez

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“What would my mom think of that?” Long-distance runner Ivan Fernandez didn’t have a second’s thought in helping his rival, giving up his own chance to win a race in Burlada, Navarre, in December 2012.

Event-leader Kenyan runner Abel Mutai misread the markers and thought he'd crossed the finish line. In actuality he had ten metres to go. Though Spaniard Fernandez - in second - could have gone for gold, he realized Mutai’s mistake and confusion of the signage and -despite the language barrier - urged him to keep running. Thanks to Fernandez’ selflessness, Mutai was pushed to victory.

A quizzical journalist was bemused as to Fernandez’ actions, asking why he ‘let Mutai win’

“I didn’t let him win,” Fernandez replied, “He was going to win.

“What would be the merit of my victory?,” he continued, “What would be the honour of that medal? What would my mom think of that? Would my country have felt proud?”. 

 

Pete Goss

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On December 25, 1996, it was a timely Christmas present delivered by sailor Pete Goss. The Englishman was slap-bang in the middle of the Antarctic Ocean (also known as the Southern Ocean) competing in the gruelling Vendée Globe, the single-handed (solo) non-stop yacht race around the world, he received a desperate call from his rival shipman Raphael Dinelli. The Frenchman’s yacht had been wrecked in a catastrophic storm that was still creating hurricane-like conditions. Goss immediately stopped his own effort, turned his yacht and sailed for two days through the eye of the storm to rescue his competitor.

Demonstrating that quite a lot of things are more important than sport and competition, Goss may well have saved Dinelli’s life - indeed that same event, another participant Gerry Roufs tragically died, with his body never found. When Goss arrived at the spot in the middle of the Southern Ocean, he found Dinelli in a small life-raft holding a bottle of champagne.

Of the 16 sailors who set out that year, only six managed to finish, with Goss’ sacrifice meaning he came second to last, in a time of 126 days 21 hours and 25 minutes. However, he was subsequently awarded the Legion d'Honneur by France, and formed a close friendship with Dinelli.

 

Andy Roddick

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Former World Number One Andy Roddick was unfortunate to win just a single Glam Slam in his career, but the American proved to be one of the most memorable characters on the tennis circuit in the first decade of the 2000s.

During the 2005 Rome Masters (the Italian Open), Roddick - who was seeded Number One for the tournament - faced Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in the third round.

Roddick eventually found himself on the verge of taking the second set, at match point, with Verdasco on his second serve. 

A double-fault that was initially called by the linesman would have given Roddick the victory and allow him to proceed to the next round. Instead, the then 22-year-old demonstrated his sportsmanship by highlighting the ball mark on the clay court which proved that Verdasco’s serve was in fact in.

Not only was the call changed to an ace, but Verdasco went on to win the match in 2hours and 32 minutes and Roddick was eliminated from the competition - Roddick’s morals had cost him the match.

 

Jack Nicklaus

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Jack Nicklaus is not only a giant of the game of golf, in 1969 he proved that he is also a giant of a man. Competing in his first Ryder Cup, the Golden Bear produced one of the most infamous moments in the history of the tournament that had pitted Europe’s best v the United States’ since 1927. 

Nicklaus, who still holds the record for most majors won, with 18, infuriated his captain America Sam Snead at the Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport, England. Nicklaus’ opponent Tony Jacklin was competing for the still-limited contingent from the United Kingdom and Ireland. With 31 matches completed, it was 15½-15½ and on the final hole, both players were on the green in two at the par-4 18th. Nicklaus overhit and eventually scored par but Jacklin’s putt was just two feet away, to once again equal the score.

One of the greatest ever golf moments didn’t even involve a swing.

Nicklaus didn’t allow his friend Jacklin to try the putt. Instead, he bent over and picked up his opponent’s marker and conceded the shot, enabling the Brit and the American to finish on exactly the same score, 16-16.  

“I don't believe you would have missed that, but I’d never give you the opportunity in these circumstances,” Nicklaus said.

‘The Concession’ allowed the first tie in Ryder Cup history, and though the US retained the Cup as defending champions, Nicklaus’ act of sportsmanship meant that Jacklin and his team got to leave with their heads held high.