For the first time in more than a century, two Olympians shared an athletics gold medal on Sunday, an extraordinary event that moved the athletes to tears in the Tokyo Stadium.
In the Olympic high jump final, Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi both cleared 2.37 meters but failed to reach 2.39 meters on all three tries. But instead of settling with a jump-off, in which the bar is gradually lowered until just one of the two clears it, Barshim asked the referee if they could share gold instead.
The referee said yes. Barshim and Tamberi, who are good friends, shook hands and embraced each other, crying and jumping with joy to celebrate their shared win. Overcome with emotion, the Italian high jumper collapsed onto the track field.
The double gold was made possible by a technical rule by the governing body World Athletics.
“If no jump-off is carried out, including where the relevant athletes at any stage decide not to jump further, the tie for first place shall remain,” the rule says.
The last time Olympic gold medals in athletics were shared was 109 years ago, at the 1912 Stockholm Summer Games. Hugo K. Weislander from Sweden and the U.S. athlete Jim Thorpe shared first place in the decathlon, as did Ferdinand Reinhardt Bie from Norway and again Jim Thorpe in the pentathlon.
Medals have been shared more recently in other Olympic events. In the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, duos from Germany and Canada shared gold in the two-man bobsleigh. In the 2016 Rio Olympics, Canada’s Penny Oleksiak and the U.S.’ Simone Manuel swam the same 52.7 seconds in women’s 100m freestyle and both went home with a gold medal.
But what made the high jumpers’ shared win rarer still is their friendship.
According to USA Today, Barshim and Tamberi met in 2010 at the world junior championships held in Canada’s New Brunswick. Tamberi even attended Barshim’s wedding in 2018, and the two have supported each other during serious injuries.
Both athletes were ecstatic when they were allowed to share gold.
“Sharing with a friend is even more beautiful... It was just magical,” Tamberi said, according to the Associated Press.
In the same interview, Barshim called Tamberi one of his best friends. “We're always together almost. True spirit, sportsman spirit, coming here and delivering this message,” he said.
For Tamberi, who broke his ankle just weeks before the 2016 Rio Olympics, it was also a moment of redemption. He kept his cast and even brought it with him to Japan five years later, after the pandemic postponed the games for a year. A lettering on his cast reads “Road to Tokyo 2020,” with the year crossed out in red and replaced with “2021.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the last time an Olympic athletics medal was shared was more than a century ago. We regret the error.