While Canada's shining in the medal standings in Sochi, one of the best Canadian moments of these Olympics so far came in a sport where no Canadian athletes medalled. That would be cross-country skiing, where Canadian team coach Justin Wadsworth wound up watching the final of the men's free sprint after his own athletes were eliminated. As Cathal Kelly of The Toronto Star writes, Wadsworth quickly became more than a spectator when he saw Russian skier Anton Gafarov struggling:
As he stood there, surrounded by other officials, he spotted Russian Anton Gafarov coming over a rise. Gafarov, an early medal favourite, was struggling miserably.
He’d crashed on a quick downhill corner and broken a ski. Then he’d crashed again. A long, thin layer of P-Tex had been skinned off his ski. It was now wrapped around his foot like a snare.
Gafarov was not ‘skiing’ to the finish. He was dragging himself.
Wadsworth looked around. No one was moving. Everyone just stared, including a group of Russian coaches.
“It was like watching an animal stuck in a trap. You can’t just sit there and do nothing about it,” Wadsworth said later.
In a race typically decided by tenths-of-a-second, Gafarov was three minutes behind the pack. He was trying to make it the last couple of hundred metres down the 1.7 km course.
Wadsworth grabbed a spare ski he’d brought for Canadian racer Alex Harvey and ran onto the track.
Gafarov stopped. Wadsworth kneeled beside him. No words passed between them. Gafarov only nodded. Wadsworth pulled off the broken equipment and replaced it. Gafarov set off again.
“I wanted him to have dignity as he crossed the finish line,” Wadsworth, a three-time Olympian, said.
That. That right there. That’s the Olympics.
Here's what Gafarov's broken ski looked like:
It's perfect that a Canadian cross-country coach did this, and even more perfect that it was Wadsworth. He's from the U.S. initially and was very successful both competing and coaching with the American team, but is married to famed former Canadian cross-country skiier Beckie Scott, and took over the Canadian cross-country program after the 2010 Olympics. Scott and teammate Sara Renner won silver in the team sprint event in Turin in 2006, but only did so thanks to an incredible act of sportsmanship from Norwegian coach Bjornar Haakensmoen, who gave Renner a spare pole after she broke hers. Here's video of that:
That move wound up hurting Norway, as they finished fourth and out of the medals, but Haakensmoen said he had no regrets:
"Some countries don't give poles to their opposition. That is bullshit," he said.
"Our policy in Norway is that we should give poles or skis to everyone. We talked about it at our team meeting the night before. We are a country which believes in fair play. I like to be somebody of fair sportsmanship."
It seems unbelievably appropriate that a Canadian coach stepped in and helped others the way this country was helped in 2006. Of course, Wadsworth's help came too late for Gafarov to medal, so it's unlikely he'll receive the massive amount of gifts Haakensmoen did (including over five tons of Canadian maple syrup), but his move was still incredibly noble, and it's something Canadians can take pride in. Not all of the great Olympic moments are about owning the podium; some of them are even better.