High Jumping to Conclusions

Friends, do I need to remind you how much I love the Olympic Games? You might remember my favorite Olympic moment or my dreams of being an Olympic athlete. My passion for the games has not subsided; in fact, check out my most recent purchase – a pair of Team USA Nike Air Max shoes.


As always, my family and I have spent the past couple of weeks watching the Tokyo Summer Games with great interest. We’ve cheered for the athletes, marveled at their skills and accomplishments, and waited for inspirational moments like when Mary Lou Retton won gold in 1984 or when the US Men’s 4 x 100 relay team beat France for the gold medal in swimming in 2008.

Despite empty stadiums and multiple controversies, there have still been exceptional moments that did not disappoint. For me, the greatest highlight was the moment that Qatar’s Olympic high-jumper, Mutaz Essa Barshim, asked officials if he and Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy could share gold-medal status. In case you missed it, here’s what happened.

Both athletes flawlessly executed each of their first six jumps up to 2.37 meters (about 7 feet 9 inches). But after both failed on their three attempts to reach the Olympic-record height of 2.39 (about 7’10”) to win the gold medal, an official approached them to discuss a jump-off. You can watch the full video here.

“Can we have two golds?” Barshim asked. And just like that, an emotional historic moment was born. I teared up at this beautiful gesture of sportsmanship and friendship. Turns out the two high jumpers have known each other since 2010. Tamberi was in Barshim’s wedding, and both had supported each other through debilitating ankle injuries. Tamberi’s injury knocked him out of the Rio Games and Barshim’s injury cut his competitive season short two years later.

I was surprised to learn that not everyone felt the way I did about what was, for me, a beautiful, touching moment. Certain media personalities called the moment “a farce” and questioned why the two athletes got to decide to share gold medals. Darren Walton tweeted: “Sooo it’s penalty shootouts for team events, super tiebreaks in tennis, 1/hundredths of a second deciding swimming/cycling/athletics golds (and dreams) … But #Olympics officials hand out TWO GOLDS for high jump instead of a jump-off. Another Tokyo2020 Farce.” But one follower quickly replied: “Actually if two swimmers touch wall and finish with the same time, they don’t have a swim off, same for two runners if the photo can’t split them, same for rowing or canoe, same for two throwers if they both get the same distance. Outcome not even close to a farce.”

There were similar debates about Simone Biles’ decision to sit out four individual events. Was she a winner for making her own health a priority? Or was she a quitter for not risking life and limb for the gold? As people who’ve never even attempted so much as a somersault weighed in on her decision, Biles was dealing not only with “the twisties” and the pressure of media scrutiny, but then with the unexpected death of her aunt. Some people jump hurdles; others jump to conclusions. We all know a few people in the latter group. And if we had Olympic events for them, the categories would be:

  • Jumping to Conclusions
  • Carrying Things Too Far
  • Dodging Responsibilities
  • Pushing Their Luck
  • Stepping Out of Line
  • Flying Off the Handle

Although you may have heard about Simone Biles and the high-jumpers from Qatar and Italy, you probably haven’t heard about this incident during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta:

The Brazilian president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and his wife flew to Atlanta to watch beach volleyball in the Summer Olympics. Beach volleyball was making its debut as a sport in the Olympics and the final was dominated by four Brazilian women. It would be the first time Brazilian women would win Olympic medals since the country began competing in the 1920 Summer Olympics. The President and his wife were staying in Suite 222 in an exclusive, unnamed hotel.

The morning of the big game, the President calls room service from and says: “Tu ti, tu tututu.” The room service attendant had a hard time understating that request, but the President would only repeat that phrase. Considering that it is coming from the President of Brazil, the attendant concluded that he must have overheard an encoded message meant for a Brazilian operative. He calls the CIA and describes the situation. Unable to decipher any meaning from the encoded message, the CIA call a Portuguese language specialist to report to the President’s hotel room as an undercover room service attendant.

Meanwhile, the President calls back again, stressing the message even more strenuously to the room service attendant: “Hello. Tu ti, tu tututu.”

The two CIA agents record the enigmatic message and send the Portuguese specialist to the President’s room with a newspaper, coffee, and a continental breakfast. When the specialist returns, he looks at the room service attendant, then the CIA agents, and shrugs his shoulders: “He was just placing an order. He wanted two teas to 222.”
And if you believe that story is true, then I should probably start training for a medal in Carrying Things Too Far.

Happy Monday,