In the heat of competition, the will to win often takes priority, especially in the Olympics, with both individual and national glory at stake. But back in 1988, a Canadian sailor Lawrence Lemieux set aside his dreams of Olympic gold to do something even more important: the right thing.
“The first rule of sailing is, you see someone in trouble, you help him,” says Lemieux. So, when he saw two sailors in a bad situation, one barely hanging on to the boat and other swept further away due to bad waves, he naturally went ahead and saved them heroically.
Lawrence’s sacrifice remains one of the greatest moments in Olympic History. But, it was not just natural. It was not just a sailing trip gone bad. Lemieux was in the midst of his 1988 Seoul Olympics Finn Class race halfway through and was in the second position with a medal almost certain.
Lawrence Lemieux had a choice. He could go on and finish his race and etch his name in Olympic history or he could go on and save two unknown sailors who were competing in a different race. Lemieux made the choice that makes us talk about him even today.
He went towards the Singapore Sailing boat that was torn apart. He dragged the first sailor Joseph Chan into his boat as he was too injured to climb aboard. Then, he rescued the other sailor Shaw Her Siew into his boat. After that, he turned his boat against the wind and waited for help to arrive. A Korean Navy boat came and took Siew and Chan with them. Lemieux later resumed the race and finished in 22nd place out of 32 boats in the race.
Though he failed to medal in 1988, the Edmonton native won himself perhaps an even more prestigious award: the International Olympic Committee’s Pierre de Coubertin Medal for true sportsmanship — an honor that’s been bestowed upon fewer than 20 competitors. “By your sportsmanship, self-sacrifice and courage, you embody all that is right with the Olympic ideal” IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch told Lemieux when presenting him with the award.
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