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A closer look at the acts of sportsmanship that were on display at the Beijing Olympics

Mikaela Shiffrin didn’t use her own skis for the downhill portion of the women’s Alpine combined event earlier this week. Instead, she borrowed the skis of Italy’s Sofia Goggia, who had won silver in the downhill race two days prior.

Goggia wasn’t competing in the Alpine combined and Shiffrin’s coaches wanted to try something new, so the two parties organized a simple plan: Goggia would leave her skis for Shiffrin to use.

“Obviously, she had some pretty fast skis,” Shiffrin said. “She’s also an incredibly skilled skier and, especially with downhill, she is able to do things that I haven’t seen a lot of people do. It’s really impressive. I was very excited to be able to ski on that pair of skis.”


But Goggia didn’t leave only her skis. She also left a note.

The message read, “Fly, Mika, you can.”

Shiffrin, who had crashed out of her first two Olympic events, started crying.

“It was a little bit of inspiration,” she said. “It was just nice.”

Exchanging skis is not a new concept in Alpine skiing. The different equipment companies — Shiffrin is an Atomic athlete — have a pool of skis available for their racers. As Shiffrin explained, skiers select pairs for training and competition, and then once they decide to move on, those skis return to the pool.

The situation with Goggia was different, however, because Goggia was actively training and competing with the skis she lent Shiffrin. Even as a fellow Atomic athlete, Goggia was not required to share her skis.

Sofia Goggia, pictured, lent her skis to Mikaela Shiffrin.Luca Bruno/Associated Press

Shiffrin certainly appreciated the gesture — and ended up finishing the downhill leg of the Alpine combined with the fifth fastest time.

“I’m thankful I was able to get a feeling on those and just try to fly as best as I could,” she said.


While the doping case involving 15-year-old Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva has overshadowed the 2022 Winter Games, Goggia is among several athletes to showcase sportsmanship — an important, albeit sometimes overlooked pillar of the Olympics.

Plenty of competitors will congratulate one another at the end of their events, but Finnish cross-country skier Iivo Niskanen took things to a new level after the men’s 15-kilometer classic. Niskanen won gold and then waited at the finish line until every single one of his 94 competitors crossed, too.

Niskanen greeted the last-place finisher, Colombia’s Carlos Andres Quintana, with a warm embrace 18 minutes after crossing the line.

“You need to respect each other as an athlete,” Niskanen said. “Everyone has done lots of work to be here, and it means a lot to take him across the finish line. You need that kind of respect in these Olympic Games. Smaller countries don’t have as much budget as the best nations.

“Everyone needs to be proud of themselves to take part in the Olympic Games as a skier.”

Quintana later shared a photo of the two on Instagram and called Niskanen “a wonderful human being” in the caption. “I would never forget this moment,” he wrote. “Thank you friend.”

In the men’s 1,000-meter speedskating race, the Netherlands’ Kai Verbij, the reigning world champion in the event, ended up off the podium because he yielded to a competitor and avoided a risky decision that could have ended both of their races.


Kai Verbij of the Netherlands competes during the men's speedskating 1,000-meter finals. He missed out on reaching the podium because of an act of sportsmanship.Ashley Landis/Associated Press

Headed into the final lap, Verbij and Canada’s Laurent Dubreuil needed to complete their mandatory changeover. Verbij was in the inside lane needing to get out, while Dubreuil was on the outside needing to get in.

Because the two were essentially even — and the outside skater maintains the right of way — Verbij needed to pick up his pace in order to successfully execute the lane change safely. He didn’t think that was possible, so, rather than risking a collision, he slowed and popped out of his racing crouch, paving the way for Dubreuil to earn silver.

“I could have tried to give a bit more speed, but I think that wouldn’t have worked out,” Verbij said. “I decided to give way, because I didn’t want to mess up someone else’s Olympic performance. At that exact moment, I knew it was over.”

Dubreuil, who placed fourth in the men’s 500-meter race, expressed immense gratitude for Verbij’s decision, which allowed the Canadian to win his first Olympic medal.

“I can’t say thank you enough to him,” Dubreuil said. “It was a really professional and classy move to do. He’s a friend, so when he gets over it — I’ll give him some time — I’ll thank him for sure.”

And at least one act of sportsmanship actually took place before the opening ceremonies.

During the US Olympic trials, American speedskater Erin Jackson failed to qualify for the Games after a slip in the 500 meters. Teammate Brittany Bowe won the event but elected to give up her spot so Jackson, the Americans’ best hope for a medal, could compete in Beijing.


Jackson ended up taking gold in the women’s 500 meters — and Bowe got to skate, too, because Team USA received an additional spot.

An act of sportsmanship from Brittany Bowe, pictured, opened the door for teammate Erin Jackson.Sarah Stier/Getty

“I came into our Olympic trials kind of expecting to qualify easily,” Jackson said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t qualify. At the time, we only knew of having two Olympic spots [in the 500 meters], and I placed third. My teammate Brittany Bowe was amazing, very selfless. She sacrificed her spot to help me get on the line. I was really grateful for her doing that.”

Bowe, who finished 16th, said she wanted the attention to be focused on Jackson’s accomplishment, rather than her own decision.

“I’m a part of the puzzle, but I want this moment to be all about her,” Bowe said. “She’s done this. She went to the start line on her own and she skated the best 500 of her life to be Olympic champion. I’m proud of her, but I want this moment to be about her.”

When Cai Qi, the president of Beijing’s organizing committee for the Games, addressed the athletes during the opening ceremony, he said he hoped for the following: that they would make friends, exceed themselves in competition, and exhibit “true sportsmanship” on the ice and snow.

“This is a victory of solidarity, of fulfilled dreams, and of the Olympic spirit,” he said.

It’s safe to say many athletes achieved just that.


Nicole Yang can be reached at nicole.yang@globe.com.Follow her on Twitter @nicolecyang.