When Sportsmanship Beats Competition

Winning isn’t everything. Sometimes it isn’t even the right thing.

It dismays me that this story isn’t getting more attention.

Spanish athlete Iván Fernández Anaya was competing in a cross-country race in Burlada, Navarre. He was running second, some distance behind race leader Abel Mutai – bronze medalist in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the London Olympics. As they entered the finishing straight, he saw the Kenyan runner – the certain winner of the race – mistakenly pull up about 10 meters before the finish, thinking he had already crossed the line.

Fernández Anaya quickly caught up with him, but instead of exploiting Mutai’s mistake to speed past and claim an unlikely victory, he stayed behind and, using gestures, guided the Kenyan to the line and let him cross first.

This happened last month; had you heard about it until now? I hadn’t.

Some of that is just that long-distance running isn’t a sport that gets a lot of media coverage; apart from the top three winners of a few popular marathons, there aren’t a lot of Wheaties boxes in its steady, skinny endurance.

But dammit, in the past month’s storm of shootings and suicides and the most incompetent politicking in living memory, you’d think there’d be a market for a story about one man showing that sportsmanship is important, that doing the right thing is better than trying to show up the other guy. Maybe I’m sentimental that way.

About Noah Brand

Noah Brand is a writer and editor, and quite possibly also a cartoon character from the 1930s. His life, when it is written, will read better than it lived. He is usually found in Portland, Oregon, directly underneath a very nice hat.

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