When the 1964 Olympic Winter Games in Innsbruck opened, the clear
favorites in the four-man Bobsled event were the hometown Austrians and the
Italians. Experts gave the Canadians an outside chance. But something
magical happened. Canada 1 broke the Olympic record in the first heat and
had a half-second lead on the rest of the field. But on that record
setting first run there'd been a problem. The Canadians went into the last
turn too fast and the sled hit the ice wall and went up on two runners.
The accident damaged the sled axle. If it wasn't fixed the Canadians would
Eugenio Monti and his Italian team didn't want to win unless they raced
against the best, and the best were competing on equal terms. Fifteen
minutes before Canada's next run, Victor Emery reached the top of the track to
find his sled upside down. The Italians had it torn apart. The collision
with the wall had caused Canada 1's axle to seize. Monti's mechanics where
doing their best
to fix it.
With Monti's help, Canada 1 was able to race and hold on to its lead. By
the fourth and final run, they were so far ahead only a disaster would
keep them from the gold medal. When the Canadians came to a stop it was
clear no one was going to catch them. The gold medal was theirs. In the
end Italy's Eugenio Monti and his team received the bronze medal.
This is only the beginning of a great story.
In the two-man Bobsled event, Tony Nash of Great Britain, after his first
run, recorded the fastest time. A bolt attaching the runners to the shell
had sheared. Eugenio Monti, who was about to steer the Italian number one
sled down the track said, "Get an Englishman and a spanner to the
finish and they can have my bolt." True to his word and ignoring
inquiries from mystified Italian journalists, the bolt was ferried back up
to the start and quickly attached to the British Bob. In the end Tony Nash
and Robin Dixon of Great Britain took home the gold and Eugenio Monti took
home the bronze and the "Pierre de Coubertin" award for fair
Monti was viciously criticized in the Italian press but he was steadfast.
"Nash didn't win because I gave him the bolt," he said. "He
won because he had the fastest run."
Every real competitor wants to win but Olympic medallist John Naber says,
"a true sportsman, who understands the Olympic ideal, wants to win
against his best opponent on his best day. So the sportsman is not elated
but disappointed when top competitors are injured or disqualified.
As a follow up, Eugenio Monti won the gold medal at the 1968 Winter
Olympics in BOTH the two-man and four-man Bobsled events. But it was his
willingness to lose that earned him a prominent place in Olympic history.
His act represents sportsmanship at its best: the pursuit of victory with
zeal and passion, recognizing that there is no true victory without honour.
Today, parents and coaches should be teaching youngsters that the real
glory of sport is in the striving, not the winning. With so many athletes
willing to cheat or behave badly just to win, we need reminders of the
noble potential of sport.
Eugenio Monti and his Italian team represent everything that is important
in life. We must not only give the best of ourselves, but also give the
best to everyone around us.