Winning an Olympic medal is one of the most important and ambitious achievement in a professional athlete’s career, it is something he or she has been working hard for years, with struggle, sacrifice and commitment to fulfill a lifelong dream. Nevertheless there are stories that remind us the Olympic Games and sport in general could be much more than competition, something more lasting and more thrilling than mere athletic excellence.
1936 Olympic Games, we are in Berlin, at the final stage of the men’s pole vault. Four athletes are competing for the gold medal. Earle Meadows, an American pole – vaulter with an amazing performance already cleared the mighty vault of 4.35; another American and two Japanese athletes are still competing for the gold medal, but their attempts to reach the same vault are unsuccessful. The main part of the competition is settled. Meadows takes gold, leaving the other three to take part in a jump-off to determine who should take silver and bronze.
Bill Sefton, the American, failed to clear the bar on the first trial. The two Japanese competitors succeeded, meaning each was assured of a medal. Shuhei Nishida and Sueo Oe were not just athletes of the same team, they were good friends and they refused to continue, they didn’t want to compete directly with each other for second and third place, they just wanted to share the honours.
Their request was rejected by the judges. Someone had to take bronze and someone silver. The Japanese team was told to decide who would be given the second place. After a long discussion it was settled that Nishida won the second place by vaulting 4 meters and 25 cm in his first try and Oe won the third place by vaulting the same height as Nishida in his second try. Neither one of them was happy and satisfied with that result.
When the two friends returned to Japan, they came up with a plan. They took their medals to a jeweller who cut them both in half. Then they joined half of the silver medal with half of the bronze medal, creating a half-silver, half-bronze medal for each of them. The medals became known as “The Medals of Friendship”.
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