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Sportsmanship

TRUE SPORTSMANSHIP

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  be disqualified.

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 play.

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.