TOKYO (AP) — Until that gold-medal moment he shared with his friend, Mutaz Barshim wasn't used to getting much attention outside of the track and field stadium.
Now he's getting approached in Tokyo streets by people who were touched by how the Olympic high jump competition finished with two men sharing the title.
“This Japanese lady, she came up to me and she was like, ‘I’m so happy. You made me cry,’” the Qatari high jumper told The Associated Press. “Everyone has been telling me how much of a historic moment it was. The impact is definitely huge.”
In the Japan National Stadium last Sunday, Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy both missed all three attempts at clearing the Olympic-record height of 2.39 meters. They had been perfect in the competition until then.
What happened next was an act of sportsmanship and solidarity but also the cementing of a friendship. They shared gold.
“When we both ended up at that 2.37, the referee came to explain to us and I just turned and asked him, ‘Can we have two golds?’” Barshim recalled. “And he’s like, ‘Yes.’ And he was trying to actually continue and explain at that moment. We didn’t really care. I looked in (Tamberi’s) eyes. He looked at my eyes. And we started celebrating already.”
The emotions were magnified by remembering how close their high jumping careers came to be ended by serious ankle injuries.
“His doctor that did the surgery, told him to consider another sport,” Tamberi said. “And the same thing had happened to me.”
So now they're Olympic champions, 11 years after they struck up a friendship at the world junior championships in Canada.
They’ve had a friendly rivalry across the world ever since. When they’re not at the track, they’re playing checkers or cards. Recently they’ve been watching “Tony Parker: The Final Shot” documentary about the NBA star.
The only thing keeping them apart now is Barshim’s need to go back for celebrations with Qatar's ruling emir. Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani was on the phone to Barshim shortly after winning gold.
“He told me that what I did was a great thing, sharing the gold with my Italian friend,” the Doha-born Barshim said. “He said that this will go down in history if God wishes.”
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