In recognition of World Kindness Day, we highlight some of the most memorable acts of sportsmanship and kindness from the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Buenos Aires 2018…
‘It was a moment I’ll never forget’
US wrestler Robert Howard could have been cast as the villain when he beat the host nation’s Hernan Almendra to clinch gold in the men’s freestyle 55kg final. But instead, he was hailed as a hero after lifting his Argentinian opponent’s hand in a joint celebration.
“I know he wanted to win it really badly; it sucks that I had to take it from him,” he said afterwards. “I tried to make it as nice for him as possible at the end. But it sucks that I had to be the one to ruin the party.”
As Howard raised Almendra’s hand, the home fans cheered emphatically to show their appreciation.
“I was just giving them what they wanted: their champion,” said the 16-year-old. “I brought him to tears – I don’t know if they were happy tears or sad tears, but it was a moment I’ll never forget and I don’t think that he’ll forget it any time soon, either.”
‘There’s a real camaraderie between all the guys’
Tomas Hradil’s hopes of a YOG medal were dashed in the quarter-finals of the men’s kayak head-to-head sprint, when the 16-year-old capsized and failed to finish his race against Hungary’s Adam Kiss. But while the Czech was clearly disappointed not to advance to the next round, he soon found his fellow kayakers were quick to put their rivalries aside to console him and ease the pain of defeat.
“We did our best,” said Belgium’s Jules Vangeel who went on to win silver behind YOG champion Kiss. “We told him he’d be successful in all the other races in his career. And that’s just part of canoeing; there’s a real camaraderie between all the guys.”
‘We just like to help each other out’
US fencer May Tieu would have to face Togo’s Grace Senyo twice en route to winning bronze in the women’s foil event, but that still didn’t stop her helping her rival out when she needed it most.
After learning that Senyo didn’t have any foils that passed weapons check, the 17-year-old selflessly decided to lend one of her spares to her opponent.
“There are too many times that I had to borrow something and someone always stepped up to help,” Tieu explained afterwards. “It only made sense and it really didn’t pose a problem in my mind. Fencing is a social sport and we just like to help each other out.”
Loaning her weapon to Senyo did, however, present an unusual sight for Tieu during their contests, when she came up against the colours of the American flag.
“My blade had red, white and blue tape, so I actually saw that pointing at me and kind of chuckled,” she said.
Tieu went on to win both bouts against the Togolese, but her coach, US Olympian Greg Massialas, was most impressed by her sportsmanship, rather than the manner of her victories.
“This was like a Youth Olympics moment,” he said.
‘Our rivals are not like normal rivals’
Few athletes at the YOG Buenos Aires 2018 epitomised the Olympic spirit more than the sport climbers, who surprised many of those watching in the crowd by collaborating with their rivals to determine the best route up the wall during the bouldering discipline.
“Our rivals are not like normal rivals: we help each other, we will look at the wall even in the finals and try to find different solutions together, asking each other what we think,” said Austria’s Sandra Lettner, when explaining the set observation period all climbers have in which to study the wall in front of them. “It’s pretty cool.”
Lettner, the 2017 youth world champion, went on to win the women’s combined gold medal and even one of her biggest rivals was happy to co-operate during the event.
“Of course, I want to beat her,” said Italy’s Laura Rogora, the top-ranked female youth lead climber in the world. “But for sure I will help her out with the route.”
‘It’s not about the medals’
When some of the cyclists from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Egypt arrived in Buenos Aires without mountain bikes, their chances of competing in the combined event – which included both road racing and a cross-country course – looked slim. But, in an act of kindness and friendship, their opposing teams were only too happy to help out and lend them some bikes so that they had a ride.
“The Argentina team found me a mountain bike, because I don’t have one,” explained Zayid Hailu, of Ethiopia. “I’m very happy and grateful to them. Everyone is so nice and helpful here. They want to win, but off the bike it is a family.”
“The assistance we have been given is much appreciated,” added Eritrea’s Biniam Hailu. “These people from all over the world are friends.”
These special acts of kindness didn’t surprise New Zealand’s Phoebe Young, however, who explained: “It’s not about the medals; it’s about enjoying the ride and loving being on your bike.”
‘They give us so much motivation and energy’
While they understandably saved their loudest cheers for the Argentinian athletes, the local fans who packed into the YOG venues everyday were also quick to show their support for competitors from other countries.
And at the beach volleyball court, the fans were particularly keen to show their kind support to Swedish pair David Ahman and Jonatan Hellvig, who impressed with their monster blocks and towering spikes.
“These Argentinian fans are so good at cheering us,” said Ahman. “The spectators’ reaction here is way bigger than in Sweden, it almost feels like a football stadium. The arena here is so big, the crowd is amazing,” added Hellvig. “We’ve never played in front of this many people before; it’s unbelievable. They give us so much motivation and energy to keep playing well. Everyone wants to take photos with us here, everyone says ‘hi’ when we walk past them, all the people here are so kind with us. In Sweden most of the people are pretty shy and they don’t say so much. Here it’s different.”