What sets the gold medal apart is that it lets you announce to the world that you are unparalleled, that there is no other. But this distinctiveness of the gold medal was broken in the most extraordinary of way at the Tokyo Olympics 2021 when Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi shared the gold medal in the men’s high jump event.
Both Barshim and Tamberi had perfect jumps till the 2.39m mark. But nothing could separate the two after three failed attempts. A ‘Jump-off’ was offered to the duo by the Olympic official, to which Barshim asked, “Can we have two golds?” The official nodded, Barshim and Tamberi hugged each other, whooped for joy and history was made. It was the first time since the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, that a gold medal was shared.
Mutaz Barshim was a silver medallist from the 2016 Rio Games. He also won bronze at the 2012 London Games. Tamberi had suffered a broken ankle that forced him out of the Rio Games. When the cast came off, the 29-year-old wrote on it “Road to Tokyo 2020”. Then, he crossed out 2020 after the pandemic led to a postponement and wrote in red, “2021”. That cast lay on the track as he jumped for gold.
But can the gold medal be shared and under what circumstances? Let’s find out
Sports where bronze medal is shared
In boxing both semi-finalists are given a bronze medal each. Until the 1948 London Olympics, there used to be a bout between the losing semi-finalists to decide the bronze medal. The change in rule was introduced from the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.
Judo, taekwondo and wrestling use the repechage system to give bronze medals. In taekwondo and wrestling repechage, a separate draw is made, which includes the losing semi-finalists along with the two athletes who lost to the eventual finalists in the Round of 16 and the quarter-finals. The losing Round of 16 and losing quarter-final athletes in the same half of the draw compete against each other, and the winner of each then plays the losing semi-finalist in their half of the draw for two bronze medals. In judo repechage, a separate draw is made for the losing semi-finalists and the losing quarter-finalists. There are two forms of karate at Tokyo 2020 - kumite and kata, with medallists decided in each. Kumite uses a direct elimination system and both losing semi-finalists are given a bronze medal. In kata, after an initial elimination round, six athletes proceed to a ranking round and will be divided into two groups. The group winners proceed to the gold medal bout while the four remaining athletes fight each other for two bronze medals.
Republic of Korea's Kim Soyeong and Kong Heeyong won the bronze medal match 21-10, 21-17 in 48 minutes against compatriots Lee Sohee and Shin Seungchan, in the first same nation bronze medal match in badminton at an Olympic Games.
Bronze play-off is used in 3x3 basketball, archery, badminton, softball/baseball, basketball, fencing, football, handball, hockey, rugby sevens, surfing, table tennis, tennis, volleyball and water polo.
Sports where gold medal is shared
High Jump and Pole Vault are the only two sports that allow sharing of the gold medal. In both these sports, the medals are decided based on the maximum height athletes are able to clear. Once there are only two athletes remaining, and if both fail to clear the mark, the medal is given based on the number of attempts both of them took to clear the previous height. In case, both athletes cleared the previous height in the same number of attempts, a jump-off is used to decide the winner. But, the medal can be shared, if both athlete decide to do so and that is what happened in the Men’s High Jump final.
According to the rules, “The jump-off will start at the next greater height. Each jumper has one attempt and the bar is lowered and raised until one jumper succeeds at one height,” Under section 26.8.4 of the sport’s Technical Rules, however, is the crucial wording that allowed the gold to be shared. The rule says that a jump-off should be conducted to determine the winner, “unless otherwise decided, either in advance according to the regulations applying to the competition, or during the competition but before the start of the event by the Technical Delegate(s) or the Referee. “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.”