Are you burning with Olympic fever? I can’t say I’m in full-out flames. But I’m certainly keen to keep up with medal news. There’s gold, silver and bronze, of course, but how about the honourable Pierre de Coubertin Medal for stellar sportsmanship? Did you know there was an Olympic medal for good deeds?
Talk to sailing champion Lawrence Lemieux. In 1988, the then-32-year-old from Alberta was in the race of his life, flying towards a top medal in the ocean waters off South Korea. The story took a turn when Lawrence spotted Team Singapore’s capsized boat. The two crew members, who had been competing in a different race, were in the water and injured.
Lawrence forgot any notion of racing. He steered his craft towards the desperate sailors, rescuing them both and staying with them until more help arrived.
Only then did Lawrence return to his race. Instead of taking home a gold or silver medal, he finished twenty-first out of 32.
“The first rule of sailing is, you see someone in trouble, you help him,” Lawrence told a reporter later. “If I didn’t go, it would be something you would regret for the rest of your life.” He certainly saved the life of one of the sailors, who was drifting away to open sea by the time Lawrence caught up with him.
I’m sure the decision to award Lawrence the Pierre de Coubertin Medal was a no-brainer for the International Olympic Committee. Twenty years later, he received more praises as he was inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame.
He no longer competes. But Lawrence still coaches sailing. And I can imagine that just as he teaches young athletes to tack and jibe, he instills the same sporting values that have put him squarely in the history books.