What is sportsmanship? Is racing in a hard fought battle but placing second, still a victory?
Put yourself in Cecil Healy’s shoes (or his wool racing swim costume) at the 1912 Olympics. Healy, of Australasia (combined teams of Australia and New Zealand), had swum a time that was the unofficial world record in the 100fr eight years before in 1904. Sadly he was unable to attend the 1908 Olympics because he couldn’t afford it. Finally in 1912, racing in Stockholm harbour in the 100m freestyle, his chance to win had arrived.
After the 100fr heats, he ranked second and then swam in the first semifinal. He won his semifinal but very strangely, in the second semi final, three important swimmers from USA were missing; including Hawaiian swimmer Duke Kahanamoku. It was reported to be a management error. Technically since they missed their semifinal they were excluded from the final. Good news for Cecil right?
The error should have cost the trio their chance to race in the final but Cecil felt this was unfair. He wanted to win against ALL of the best swimmers and spearheaded an appeal. The appeal was successful despite protests by other teams. So a special race was held and Kahanamoku qualified for the final. In the final Kahanamoku won and Cecil was second.
In sportsmanship ethical questions abound. Could you live with knowing your gold was tarnished by a management error? Even if it had nothing to do with you? Cecil Healy could not abide a tarnished gold medal and his silver was won in a hard fought race.
Cecil Healy died in the battle of the Somme in 1918. Cecil had combined with his Australasian teammates and won gold in the relay so he was still an Olympic gold medalist. He is the only Australian Olympic gold medalist to die in action.