The duel between Olympic high jumpers Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy seemed destined to end in tears.
Round after round, the two star athletes simply could not outdo one another — prompting an official to tell them the next step was a “jump-off,” to see who could simply outlast the other.
But that’s when things took a turn — one that quickly became a symbol of the sportsmanship and friendship the Olympics were designed to create.
“Can we have two golds?” Barshim, the reigning world champion in the event, asked the official.
“It’s possible, yes,” the official replied — and that was all the athletes needed to hear.
Barshim, 30, and Tamberi, 29, slapped hands and hugged, celebrating an unlikely dual finish atop the podium. Even before conferring with the official, the pair had been in a tight hug, congratulating each other on bringing out their best at the Tokyo Olympics.
The elite athletes had soared above the rest of the field, posting perfect marks through their first jumps. Both of them hit 2.37 meters (about 7.8 feet) on their first try. But when the bar was raised to 2.39 meters — the Olympic record — they failed on all three attempts.
The rare joint Olympic championship made headlines and created a buzz online. Taking notice of the extraordinary interest, Barshim said via Twitter Monday that the photos of him and Tamberi were the most popular in the world over the past day.
Because of the shared gold, the men’s high-jump event ended without a silver medalist. The bronze went to Maksim Nedasekau of Belarus, who matched Barshim and Tamberi’s final jump at 2.37 meters, but who had a lower overall score because he missed a couple of jumps in the early rounds. (High jumpers get three attempts to clear each height.)