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Why Heartfelt Displays from Olympic Champions are the Best of Humanity

Maria Andrejczyk spent much of her life working toward her dream of winning an Olympic medal. And like many athletes, her journey was full of setbacks and heartbreak. The Polish javelin thrower came up a scant two centimeters short of winning a medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, missed the 2017 competitive season while recovering from shoulder surgery, was diagnosed with bone cancer in 2018, and watched, along with other athletes, as the 2020 Olympics were postponed a year.

So when she finished second a few weeks ago in the Tokyo Games, you would think she would hold that silver medal as her most priced possession for the rest of her life.

Instead, she sold it.

In Transfluence, I wrote about how honesty often comes down to choosing morals over medals. It was a play on a quote about the 2016 doping scandal involving Russian athletes who were to compete in both the Olympic and Paralympic games. Sir Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee, summed up the dishonesty by the Russians when he said, “Their medals over morals mentality disgusts me.”

Andrejczyk’s decision to sell her silver medal, however, is a fitting example of another aspect of what I call my 3H-Core – heart. You see, she didn’t sell the medal out of greed. She auctioned it off to raise money for an eight-month-old in need of life-saving heart surgery. Żabka, a Polish supermarket chain, won the rights to the medal by bidding $125,000 that was donated to the youngster’s cause.

“It is with the greatest pleasure that I give Żabka this medal, which for me is a symbol of struggle, faith and pursuit of dreams despite many odds,” she said. “I hope that for you it will be a symbol of the life we fought for together.”

In a fitting twist, Żabka then returned the medal to Andrejczyk.

Some athletes will do anything to win. The medal is the most important thing. For others, the medal symbolized something bigger. That was the point of Andrejczyk’s gift, and it also was the point of an impromptu decision by two high jumpers who competed at the Tokyo Games.

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Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi and Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Bershim were tied in the competition after both men cleared 2.37 meters (about 7 feet, 9 ¼ inches). When neither cleared 2.39 meters after three attempts, they remained tied and a judge began explaining how they could continue their “jump off” to see who would win gold and who would win silver.

“Can we have two golds?” Barshim asked the judge.

The judge said they could, and so they agreed to share the gold medal. That’s humility, by the way, the third element of the 3H-Core.  

“He is one of my best friends, not only on the track, but outside the track,” Barshim said. “We work together. This is a dream come true. It is the true spirit, the sportsman spirit, and we are here delivering this message.”

Message received. The Olympics Games have come to represent the best and worst of humanity. In a world that often seems to have gone mad, it’s encouraging to see examples that remind us that it all comes down to a choice. The real winners choose honesty, humility, and heart.

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