9 Great Moments in Sportsmanship
If you've spent the past week scratching your head about a soccer player biting an opponent at the World Cup, we have the perfect pick-me-up to show that sports aren't always survival of the toothiest. These nine incredible acts of sportsmanship -- five in the text and photos below, four in the accompanying video -- just may restore your faith in sports humanity.
Kelly Clark: Three-time Olympic medalist in snowboard halfpipe
Feb. 12, 2014: Sochi Olympics, halfpipe finals
It was one of the biggest finals of my career ... and I was as discouraged as I've ever been.
I'd qualified in first place early in the day in the Olympic semifinals, and had a seven-hour break until finals. When I showed up later that night, however, the halfpipe was in really rough shape. It had developed lots of ruts and bumps during the day, and was a huge challenge to ride. It was like we were competing in a different contest.
In practice right beforehand I tried to get my run down, but the practice went about as badly as it could have. I didn't land one run the entire time. I tried everything I could and nothing worked.
After practice was over I let myself have a mini meltdown, hoping that would help me get all the frustration out. Then I had to go back up to the top to begin the competition. Torah Bright -- the 2010 Olympic gold medalist -- was up there, and she saw that I'd been crying.
She gave me this enormous hug, then looked at me and said, "You need one more." And she gave me another one. It was one of the kindest things someone has ever done for me. We were about to compete -- at the Olympics, no less -- and potentially my biggest competitor of the night was there for me, making sure I was OK. She wanted to do her best, but only if I did my best, too.
Did I hit my first run in finals? Well, no. Both Torah and I actually fell. And after that, we talked again, and she said, "All right. We got this. Let's do it on our second."
Thankfully it's the best score of the two runs in finals that counts, and Torah went down before me and did a great second run, putting her in second place. I was the last person to go in the entire contest, and at this point I'd had six falls in a row including practice, and I had one last chance to put down a run for an Olympic medal.
It wasn't my best run, but I didn't fall. And what I overcame that night was a giant victory, probably one of the biggest victories I've ever had in my career. When I got down to the bottom, Torah was the person who ran over to congratulate me, and she held my hand while we waited for the score.
Both Torah and I ended up on the Olympic podium -- her in silver, me in bronze -- and I credit a big part of my medal to Torah's kindness that night in Sochi.
Hilary Knight: Two-time Olympic medalist in ice hockey
April 7, 2012: World championships, Game 1, U.S. vs. Canada
When we play Canada, I'd use two words to describe it: sharks and blood. Each team is like a group of sharks, hungry and sensing blood in the water, and doing everything we can to get what we want.
So in the first game of the 2012 worlds, all that passion, fervor and national pride was on full display. It was a rough, aggressive game, when out of the corner of my eye I saw Canadian player Haley Irwin take a nasty spill into the corner of the boards. She went down hard, and was struggling to get up and find her footing.
But the play went the other direction, down the ice away from Haley, and usually the ref won't blow the whistle until the team with an injured player has possession, to avoid the potential advantage of faking an injury. Play continued, and Haley was on her feet, trying to skate on only one leg, and she was struggling to get back to her bench.
That's when our goalie, Molly Schaus, gave her a little push to help her get some momentum and slide across the ice toward the Canadian bench. It was a big risk: The puck could have redirected and gone into the net, and Molly might have been out of position to block it. Anything could have happened. But it was clear to me that she was thinking, even with our intense rivalry, There's a person. She's injured. Let me help in some way.
To be completely honest, at that moment I had mixed feelings about it! We were competing on the world stage, and though no one likes to see injuries, we are also trying to completely demolish the other team.
But after I saw Haley finally get to the bench, I was so glad that Molly had that kind of empathy, even during the heat of the game. Molly showcased what each athlete tries to uphold. The true spirit of sports is peace and unity through competition, and, even in the most intense of rivalries, we're all in this together. We may be competitors, but we're people first, and it was the decent, human, thing to do.
Dara Torres: Five-time Olympic medalist in swimming
Aug. 15, 2008: Beijing Olympics, semifinal 2, 50m freestyle
All of the swimmers were in a holding area, ready to go out to race, and you could have heard a pin drop. Everyone was keeping to themselves as they always do. It was a tense, nervous time.
I was sitting there, getting myself ready to swim when I got a tap on my shoulder from Swedish swimmer Therese Alshammar. We knew each other -- we'd competed against each other numerous times and we'd always been friendly -- but it was still a big surprise.
"Dara," she said, "Can you help me?" I turned around and the zipper to her swimsuit was all the way down her back. We wore those suits super tight so no water would get in them, and they were really hard to get zipped up. So we grabbed an official standing there to help out as well, and he held it together while I zipped it up. But I was nervous and I think I even told her, "I'm not sure this is going to hold."
And when she went to pick up her cap and goggles I heard this big riiiiiipppppp. Of course, at that same moment, the music started for us to march out. She was in a bit of a panic, and went to find someone to tell about her suit, while the rest of us marched out.
I felt horrible for her, and I was worried that she might not get to race. So as they were announcing the lanes I tried to inconspicuously walk over to tell the officials what was going on. They had no idea -- all they knew was that one of the swimmers didn't show up for her race. I told them I thought Therese was changing her suit and asked if we could just wait a few minutes for her to get there. As I was headed back to my lane, I saw some of the younger swimmers looking around, wondering what was happening so I tried to fill them in on the delay. Something like that can throw you off for your race, so I wanted to give them the head's up on what was happening.
Then Therese came back out as fast as she could, and I'm sure she was pretty freaked out. It takes a lot of energy to put those swimsuits on -- it's why we put them on early -- and she had to try to refocus after all that. I can't imagine trying to race after your suit has just ripped. Not an easy thing to do, and I think it of course affected her, because she came in sixth in the heat and unfortunately didn't qualify to finals.
I'm sure my coach was watching me talk to the officials and thinking, What on earth is she doing? But honestly the distraction didn't affect me and my race, and I still ended up in first going into the medal round. I was probably the best person to help because I'd been to the Olympics before and I knew the pressure already, so I just sort of put my attention back on my race when I needed to. I know that if my swimsuit had torn, I'd hope that someone would do the same thing for me.
Therese thanked me afterward and it's funny -- the Swedish Federation sent me this really nice letter saying how much they had appreciated it. But it was no big deal. It was the right thing to do. Therese was one of the top swimmers in the world, and you want everyone to be there competing. You would never want to qualify to finals just because something happened to someone else, especially something as unfair as a ripped swimsuit.
The Olympics is what we'd all been training for our entire lives, and she deserved to be out there, just like the rest of us.
Elana Meyers: Two-time Olympic medalist in bobsled
Jan. 3, 2014: Winterberg World Cup
When the clock turned to midnight on Dec. 31 of last year, I was more than ready for 2014. The Olympic year was finally here, and now it was time to get in our last preparation and races in the final month before the Games.
I arrived early to the first World Cup tour stop of the year in Winterberg, Germany, in order to get acclimated to the time change after being in the U.S. for Christmas. Then the race organizers threw us all for a loop: They opened up the track early unexpectedly, allowing for practice runs that we hadn't known we'd be able to do. I badly needed this practice time -- with the Olympics so close, every practice was becoming critical.
The only problem was that the U.S. brakemen weren't scheduled to arrive in time. I asked everyone I could think of, and on the first day one of the U.S. men was able to serve as my brakeman. On the second day, though, it looked like I was completely out of luck.
Then an amazing thing happened: Romanian driver Maria Constantin allowed me to use her brakeman, Erika Halai, for the next day's practice.
Crashes can happen at any time in bobsled, especially when you're getting used to the track, so this was hugely generous of Maria. If something had happened to Erika while we were training she would have been in big trouble for the Olympic season. Romania is a country with very few resources for bobsled and a very limited number of athletes.
We got through the practice runs without any incident, but the kindness of the Romanians stuck with me, and reminded me that in bobsled, our greatest competition is the clock, not each other.
Back with American teammate Lolo Jones as my brakeman, I finished second in the Winterberg race by .01 seconds, and then went on to win another silver medal at the Sochi Olympics a little over a month later. After my U.S. brakeman Lauryn Williams and I won in Sochi, we posed for this picture above with Maria. In it, she's wearing my medal, because she helped me earn that spot on the podium -- by giving me the chance to have a little more practice time when I needed it most.
Courtney Conlogue, No. 4-ranked surfer in the world in 2013
Apr. 21, 2012: ASP Beachley Classic, stop No. 4 on the Women's World Championship Tour
I spent my rookie season on the 2011 World Tour feeling like a freshman in high school: I was trying to earn my rank, and as the only American, I felt like I had to prove that I belonged there. There were times when I doubted that I did, and wondered if I should just quit, go home and go to college.
One year later I was still feeling much the same way, and nearly halfway through the 2012 season, I'd never made it out of the quarterfinals in a contest. When we arrived at Dee Why, Australia, for the Beachley Classic, I noticed that it was the largest prize purse of the tour -- $130,000 -- but I was more focused on making the finals.
And things finally went my way in Dee Why. I managed to get a great wave in the quarters and sneaked past world No. 2 Sally Fitzgibbons in the standings to qualify into finals. It was a huge moment for me, but the most meaningful part of it was that Sally saw the results and came running down the beach to give me this massive hug. I'm sure she was disappointed in her results, but she knew what it meant to me to make the finals after a year and a half of trying.
In the finals I managed to win again -- my first major victory on the tour -- and again it was Sally, along with Steph Gilmore, who came over to me, chairing me up in surf tradition. They were the top two-ranked surfers on the tour, chasing the world championship title, and every win is important in deciding that title.
Surfing is such a solo sport, and I had never shared my doubts with any of the other girls on the tour. But they knew how important this victory was to me, and they celebrated with me as if it was their own, even with major titles and money on the line. Things hadn't gone their way that day, but they were still there. It was really special.