Olympic Games’ throw up amazing moments of sportsmanship and Finland’s Iivo Niskanen has given the Beijing Games a moment to savour.
Olympic gold medallist Iivo Niskanen has been praised for showing “true Olympic spirit” in a brilliant act of sportsmanship.
The 30-year-old Finnish cross country skier claimed his third Olympic gold and fourth medal in his career.
Previously he won gold in the team spring in Sochi 2014 and the 50km classical in 2018 in PyeongChang. Earlier in Beijing, he claimed bronze in the 30km skiathlon.
On Friday, Niskanen won gold in the 15km classic by 23 seconds over ROC’s Alexander Bolshunov.
The Classic start in cross-country skiing sees each competitor start at intervals of 30 seconds with the skier with the fastest time winning.
As Niskanen crossed the line, he collapsed wouldn’t have been blamed if he went off to celebrate his victory.
But even as it was clear he wouldn’t be beaten, Niskanen waited until the final competitor, Columbia’s Carlos Andres Quintana, crossed the line in 19th nearly 18 minutes behind Niskanen’s time and over half an hour later crossed the line.
Quintana wasn’t the last skier to leave the start but was the last to cross the line.
And while many other competitors had already left, Niskanen waited for Quintana to cross the line and embraced the Columbian.
It was a powerful moment of sportsmanship in an event many see as one of the most taxing on the Olympic program.
“All athletes must respect each other,” said Niskanen of the moment.
“Everyone has worked hard to be here.
“You have to show this kind of respect at the Olympics towards countries that don’t have much budget to get the best results, unlike the best nations.”
Niskanen, who finished fourth at the event in Sochi, said he had waited four years for redemption.
Having come into Beijing as one of the favourites for the event, Niskanen was feeling the heat, but ended up winning by 23 seconds to ROC’s Alexander Bolshunov.
“It’s never easy to do your best at the Olympics,” he said. “I felt pressure today to take this gold medal. I’m really proud that I managed to win (for the) third time in a row at this distance in this season.”
The 36-year-old Quintana, who grew up as a triathlon athlete and only started cross-country skiing at the age of 33, also said he appreciated the gesture.
“Yes. It was a good moment there. And then the Norwegian also congratulated me (bronze medallist Norway’s Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo),” he told AFP.
“It’s a consolation prize because I didn’t feel comfortable at all. From the start I didn’t feel well physically.
“I don’t know what happened, but physically I didn’t feel like it today.”
Six-time NBA All-Star and three-time Olympic medallist Pau Gasol wrote: “This is the true Olympic spirit”.
NHL reporter Jouni Nieminen tweeted: “Class act of the day. Iivo Niskanen of (Finland) stuck around after winning gold medal in 15 kilometre cross country skiing to congratulate Carlos Quintana of Columbia who finished last. Real sportsmanship and Olympic spirit! In hockey we suckerpunch the last guy.”
The Niskanen family is high achieving in cross-country skiing as well as his sister Kerttu Niskanen claimed silver in the 10km classical, the third silver medal she has claimed in her Olympic career but first individual honour.