February 12, 2014
The true Olympic spirit has been displayed by Canadian cross-country ski coach Justin Wadsworth, who helped Russian athlete Anton Gafarov with his broken ski during the Men's Sprint Free Semifinals at the Sochi Games.
Gafarov’s start wasn’t smooth. He fell three times, crashing early in the race and breaking his ski. It was clear that Gafarov was out of the race for the men’s finals and wouldn’t be able to compete for medals.
Still, he wanted to finish in front of the home crowd, but his left ski was too badly damaged in the crash and its base had come off.
The Russian skier faced finishing the race by walking to the line, not skiing.
However, the Russian’s fall was seen by Canadian coach Justin Wadsworth, who immediately ran on to the course and helped Gafarov.
"I went over and gave him one of Alex's [Harvey, a member of the Canadian team who didn't qualify for the sprint final] spare skis. It was about giving Gafarov some dignity so he didn't have to walk to the finish area," Wadsworth said in an interview to the Globe and Mail from Canada.
The Canadian coach didn’t just give a ski to the Russian, he even fastened it himself to Gafarov’s foot.
“We help because we know everyone works so hard in our sport,” says Wadsworth, who was an Olympic skier for the US before becoming a coach.
“Everyone wants fair results,” believes the coach, adding that his help “was a matter of allowing [Gafarov] to finish the race.”
Gafarov was philosophical about his performance.
“My fall cost me a broken ski and a pole,” said Anton Gafarov, adding that he decided to continue fighting for the finals despite all the difficulties.
“I could have waited the whole day for the ski,” he said. ”I saw many athletes who were literally crawling till the finish line without skis and without poles.”
The Russian believes the race should be finished in any way possible.
“It was a matter of principle to hold on to the end,” adds he.
However, Gafarov is not devastated by his failure and is eager to take part in Winter Olympics 2018 in Pyeongchang despite back problems due to injuries.
“By finishing [the semi-finals] I want to thank everyone who supported me,” says the athlete.
This is not the first time the Olympic spirit has been displayed in competition.
During 2006 Turin Winter Olympics, Canada’s Sara Renner and Beckie Scott were racing in the team sprint final when Renner broke a pole. Norwegian coach Bjornar Hakensmoen helped Renner by giving her a new pole. The athlete not only finished the race, but also won a silver medal with Scott.
Hakensmoen was applauded by the Canadians for offering his help to Renner and Scott. Eight thousand cans of maple syrup were sent to the Norwegian embassy in gratitude.