When the 1964 Olympic Winter Games in Innsbruck opened, the clear favorites in the four-man Bobsled event were the hometown Austrians and the Italians. Experts gave the Canadians an outside chance. But something magical happened. Canada 1 broke the Olympic record in the first heat and had a half-second lead on the rest of the field. But on that record setting first run there'd been a problem. The Canadians went into the last turn too fast and the sled hit the ice wall and went up on two runners. The accident damaged the sled's axle. If it weren't fixed the Canadians would be disqualified.
Eugenio Monti and his Italian team didn't want to win unless they raced against the best, and the best were competing on equal terms. Fifteen minutes before Canada's next run, Victor Emery reached the top of the track to find his sled upside down. The Italians had it torn apart. The collision with the wall had caused Canada 1's axle to seize - Monti's mechanics where doing their best to fix it.
With Monti's help, Canada 1 was able to race and hold on to its lead. By the fourth and final run, they were so far ahead only a disaster would keep them from the gold medal. When the Canadians came to a stop it was clear no one was going to catch them. The gold medal was theirs. In the end Italy's Eugenio Monti and his team received the bronze medal.
This is only the beginning of a great story.
In the two-man Bobsled event Tony Nash of Great Britain, after his first run, recorded the fastest time. A bolt attaching the runners to the shell had sheared. Eugenio Monti, who was about to steer the Italian number one sled down the track said, "Get an Englishman and a Spanner to the finish and they can have my bolt." True to his word and ignoring inquiries from mystified Italian journalists, the bolt was ferried back up to the start and quickly attached to the British Bob. In the end Tony Nash and Robin Dixon of Great Britain took home the Gold and Eugenio Monti took home the Bronze and the "Pierre de Coubertin" award for fair play.
Monti was criticized in the Italian press but he was steadfast. "Nash didn't win because I gave him the bolt," he said. "He won because he had the fastest run."
Olympic medallist John Naber says, "A true sportsman who understands the Olympic ideal, wants to win against his best opponent on his best day." So the sportsman is not elated but disappointed when top competitors are injured or disqualified.
As a follow up, Eugenio Monti won the gold medal at the 1968 Winter Olympics in BOTH the two-man and four-man Bobsled events. What earned him a prominent place in Olympic history? His will to make sure he competed against the best at all cost. His act represents True Sportsmanship - the pursuit of victory with zeal and passion, recognizing that there is no true victory without honor.
Today, parents and coaches should be teaching youngsters that the real glory of sport is in the striving, not the winning. With so many athletes willing to cheat just to win, we need positive reminders of what the Olympics are meant to stand for.
Eugenio Monti and his Italian team represent everything that is important in life. We must not only give the best of ourselves, but also give the best to everyone around us.