TOKYO - And if we don’t keep jumping, the gold is for both of us?
The question, in the middle of the oppressive night of Japanese heat in a huge empty stadium, gave rise to what is one of the most beautiful stories of the Tokyo Olympics: the decision of an athlete to share the gold with his friend.
Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim did it to put a smile on the face of Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi that would not go away all night long.
Barshim and Tamberi had managed to clear the bar at 2.37 meters in the high jump, but both failed to fly over 2.39. It was then that a technical official from World Athletics, the federation that governs track and field, approached them to ask if they wanted to continue jumping to define between the two of them who would take the gold.
“Can the gold go to both of us?” asked Barshim. The technical official nodded and pandemonium broke out on the athletics track at Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium. Tamberi jumped - it could not be otherwise - into the arms of Barshim, with whom he has a long-standing friendship.
Sharing the medal ensured Barshim had the full set after the London 2012 bronze and Rio 2016 silver, and did not risk losing the top step of the podium, which he had already won.
“History, my friend!” said Barshim to Tamberi, who began to run around the stadium, a stadium where in a matter of minutes too many important and emotional things were happening.
In those minutes, Venezuela’s Yulimar Rojas was taking the gold in the triple jump. In three jumps, Rojas broke the world record set by Ukraine’s Inessa Kravets in 1995, before she was born, and won the first Olympic gold by a woman in the history of her country.
On the other side of the stadium, Lamont Marcell Jacobs won the 100 meters, the first Italian in Olympic history to do so, thus succeeding the legendary Jamaican Usain Bolt.
Seconds after crossing the finish line, Jacobs landed in the arms of Tamberi, who was still wild with happiness. Hours later, “Casa Italia”, the fabulous headquarters of the Italian team in Tokyo, was a huge party.
Barshim and Tamberi’s history of friendship goes back to a youth World Cup in Canada, 11 years earlier.
“When I first met him I thought he was crazy,” the Qatari once said of the histrionic Italian. But no, he wasn’t. Ankle injuries brought them together in pain and perseverance. Tamberi was left out of Rio 2016 and Barshim had a season ruined.
“When I got to Gianmarco we support each other. We all know his story - he could have won in Rio (2016) but he had an injury, but being here together is something spectacular. I believe in him and believed in myself”, Barshim said.
“We got along well, we became friends, I went to his wedding,” Tamberi recalled amid the oppressive heat in the early hours of Monday morning in the concrete bowels of the Olympic Stadium.
It was a night in which the memory of Cuba’s Javier Sotomayor and his world record of 2.45 in 1993 in the Spanish city of Salamanca returned. Both Barshim and Tamberi tried to get close to that mark in Tokyo. They couldn’t. Will the record celebrate its 30th birthday in 2023?