TOKYO — The Italian high jumper leaped into his rival’s arms, then belly-flopped onto the hard track, rolled around a few times and screamed.
Gianmarco Tamberi was just getting warmed up, too. It’s not every day you tie your good friend for gold.
Tamberi and Mutaz Barshim of Qatar agreed to the tie Sunday at the Tokyo Games in a competition settled not by clearing the top height but through a subtle nod.
After both had flawlessly executed each of their first six jumps up to 2.37 meters (about 7 feet 9 inches), both failed on their three attempts at the Olympic-record height of 2.39 (about 7-10) to outright win the gold medal. As the exhausted friends came together for a hug afterward, the official with a clipboard and headset proposed the question: Did they want to go forward with a jump-off to decide who would win a gold medal?
The men looked at each other and smiled.
“Can we have two golds?” Barshim asked, and as the official nodded, the men once again embraced each other.
“History, my friend,” Barshim could be heard saying to Tamberi, who eventually ran around the track by himself to collapse and cry. The corners of the stadium with delegates and coaches erupted into cheers. Edge definitely to Tamberi, though, for the degree of difficulty in celebrations. That’s not even counting all the hugs and kisses he delivered — or all of the people he jumped into the arms of.
He was just that excited. This was that crazy of an ending.
“I still can’t believe it happened,” Tamberi said. “Sharing with a friend is even more beautiful. . . . It was just magical.”
“For me, coming here, I know for a fact that for the performance I did, I deserve that gold,” Barshim said. “He did the same thing, so I know he deserved that gold.”
It stressed sportsmanship, too — or so they hope. It also adds to Barshim’s Olympic medal collection, pairing nicely with silver in Rio and bronze at the 2012 London Games.
“This is beyond sport,” Barshim said. “This is the message we deliver to the young generation.”
When Italian sprinter Marcell Jacobs surprisingly won the 100 meters a few minutes later, there was Tamberi to greet him. Not so much as greet him as celebrate by jumping into the sprinter’s arms and curling his own arm around Jacobs’ bald head.
“I was in ecstasy. My heart was exploding,” Tamberi said. “I was just full of emotions and I just screamed at him before he got in the blocks and I just supported him. I’m the captain of the national team so I just felt to do something.”
Barshim and Tamberi met at a world junior championships meet in Canada 11 years ago — “I was like, he’s crazy,” Barshim said of Tamberi — but as they continued to cross paths at meets around the world, they became both close friends and competitors. Their respect for each other only deepened after both went through similar major ankle injuries. The injury had knocked Tamberi out of the Olympics in Rio, and it upended Barshim’s season two years later.
“We just understood each other. We became friends. I’ve been in his wedding,” Tamberi said. “We want to win. We want to beat each other. But still we know how hard it is to do this sport.”
Tamberi has kept his cast from his pre-Rio injury for five years. When it came off, he wrote on it “Road to Tokyo 2020.” Then, he crossed out 2020 after the pandemic led to a postponement and wrote in red, “2021.”
“I said to myself that day, ‘I want to be back in Tokyo and I want to fight for the gold medal,’ ” Tamberi said.
They appeared to have all sorts of fun during a competition in which Maksim Nedasekau of Belarus earned bronze. Tamberi launched an imaginary jump shot after clearing a height.
Barshim was the epitome of cool in shades that kept falling off after his jumps. One time, he even swatted them away after a successful leap, and they broke.
“I’ve got 50 pairs,” Barshim said.
Now, one gold. Another for his buddy, too.
“He’s one of my best friends. Not only on the track but outside of the track,” Barshim said. “We’re always together almost. True spirit, sportsmen spirit, coming here and delivering this message.
“Appreciate what he’s done, he appreciates what I’ve done. This is amazing.”