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The Fourth Type of Olympic Medal and 5 People Who Have Won It

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Though gold, silver, and bronze medals get all of the glory, there's another Olympic award that's even harder to come by. The Pierre de Coubertin medal, named after the founder of the modern Olympics, is given to athletes and people within the sporting industry who epitomize good sportsmanship or particularly noteworthy contributions to the Olympic Games. Unlike the sporting medals, the de Coubertin medal isn't awarded at every cycle of the Games—it's only handed out when the International Olympic Committee feels someone has truly earned it.

On January 15, 2018—just ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea—IOC president Thomas Bach bestowed the award upon Chinese artist Lv Junjie, a master of Zisha, an ancient type of clay that is used to create teaware and other small objects. Bach commended Junjie for using the art to spread the Olympic spirit.

Here are five more of the award's most notable recipients, and what they did to earn the prestigious award.

1. LUZ LONG // 1936

Luz Long (pictured above), a German long jumper, gave American Jesse Owens a tip about where to start after the American athlete had failed two qualifying jumps. "He helped me measure a foot back of the takeoff board—and then I came down and I hit between these two marks. And therefore I qualified," Owens said in a 1964 documentary. "And that led to the victory in the running broad jump." Long, who was killed in action during World War II, was posthumously awarded the sportsmanship medal for his act—although many believe that the story was completely made up.

2. EUGENIO MONTI // 1964


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During the 1964 Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria, celebrated Italian bobsledder Eugenio Monti heard that the British team, Tony Nash and Robin Dixon, had sheared a key bolt from their bobsled. After his run was complete, Monti offered his rivals a bolt from his own sled—and the Brits ended up winning the gold. (Monti and his teammate came in third.) When he was later asked if he regretted sharing the hardware, Monti replied, "Nash didn’t win the gold medal because I gave him a bolt. He won because he was the fastest." Though he received the de Coubertin medal, Monti was probably also pretty happy about taking home his own pair of golds four years later at the 1968 Games.

3. LAWRENCE LEMIEUX // 1988

Canadian sailor Lawrence Lemieux was in second place during the Finn class competition at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, when he saw a pair of Singaporean sailors in a nearby race capsize. Realizing they were in danger of being carried out to sea, Lemieux abandoned his race and went to help. After pulling both of the capsized sailors onto his boat, Lemieux waited for more help to arrive before getting back to his own race. Though he eventually finished 11th, he was credited with a second-place finish and awarded the de Coubertin medal.

4. VANDERLEI CORDEIRO DE LIMA // 2004


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At the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, Brazilian runner Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima was leading the men's marathon with just four miles to go. Then it happened: A defrocked Irish priest jumped out of the crowd and detained de Lima for a good seven seconds. Though the delay was brief, it may have cost the athlete a higher finishing spot; he missed gold by more than a minute and silver by more than 40 seconds, but it's hard to say how he would have performed in the last few miles had his concentration not been interrupted. The IOC refused to change the result of the race, but they did give the Brazilian runner the de Coubertin medal in addition to his bronze. More than a decade later, the recognition continued: de Lima was chosen to light the Olympic cauldron in Rio in 2016. 

5. SHAUL LADANY // 2007

Self-trained Israeli race walker Shaul Ladany has never medalled at the Olympics, but his perseverance and character count for a lot more. As an eight-year-old, Ladany survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. As if that weren't enough horror for a lifetime, he also survived the Munich Massacre at the 1972 Olympics, even though one newspaper report listed him as a fatality. Perhaps it was his brushes with death that spurred Ladany to achieve so much in life. In addition to his impressive athletic feats (one race walking World Championship win and several gold medals in the Maccabiah Games), Ladany speaks nine languages, holds eight patents, has written more than 100 scholarly papers and a dozen books, and is a professor of industrial engineering. In 2007, he added "Pierre de Coubertin Medal Winner" to his long list of accomplishments when the IOC honored him for "outstanding services to the Olympic Movement."

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Big Questions
What Are Curlers Yelling About?
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Curling is a sport that prides itself on civility—in fact, one of its key tenets is known as the “Spirit of Curling,” a term that illustrates the respect that the athletes have for both their own teammates and their opponents. But if you’re one of the millions of people who get absorbed by the sport once every four years, you probably noticed one quirk that is decidedly uncivilized: the yelling.

Watch any curling match and you’ll hear skips—or captains—on both sides barking and shouting as the 42-pound stone rumbles down the ice. This isn’t trash talk; it’s strategy. And, of course, curlers have their own jargon, so while their screams won’t make a whole lot of sense to the uninitiated, they could decide whether or not a team will have a spot on the podium once these Olympics are over.

For instance, when you hear a skip shouting “Whoa!” it means he or she needs their teammates to stop sweeping. Shouting “Hard!” means the others need to start sweeping faster. If that’s still not getting the job done, yelling “Hurry hard!” will likely drive the point home: pick up the intensity and sweep with downward pressure. A "Clean!" yell means put a brush on the ice but apply no pressure. This will clear the ice so the stone can glide more easily.

There's no regulation for the shouts, though—curler Erika Brown says she shouts “Right off!” and “Whoa!” to get her teammates to stop sweeping. And when it's time for the team to start sweeping, you might hear "Yes!" or "Sweep!" or "Get on it!" The actual terminology isn't as important as how the phrase is shouted. Curling is a sport predicated on feel, and it’s often the volume and urgency in the skip’s voice (and what shade of red they’re turning) that’s the most important aspect of the shouting.

If you need any more reason to make curling your favorite winter sport, once all that yelling is over and a winner is declared, it's not uncommon for both teams to go out for a round of drinks afterwards (with the winners picking up the tab, obviously). Find out how you can pick up a brush and learn the ins and outs of curling with our beginner's guide.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Curling: A Beginner's Guide to Where and How to Learn to Curl
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Ronald Martinez, Getty Images

To the casual spectator, curling raises several questions. What are the players yelling about, for instance, and is all the sweeping really that important? The viewers who are only aware of the sport for two weeks every four years may also wonder if curling is still a thing when the winter Olympics are no longer in session. The answer, of course, is yes, and you don't need to be training for the big event to learn the game.

Curling may not have the mainstream appeal of other winter sports like skiing or ice-skating, but it's still accessible to amateurs if you know where to look. If you're a complete beginner, the best way to jump into the sport is to find your local curling club. Some clubs have spaces of their own dedicated to curling, while others are part of larger rinks that are also used for general ice skating. Team USA and the Shot Rock Curling Supplies company both offer interactive maps on their websites you can use to search curling clubs in your area.

Once you've found your club, the next step is learning the sport. Many curling clubs offer classes for beginners to develop the rudimentary skills required to deliver stones and sweep ice. Programs might consist of one session or a course spanning several weeks. Once you have a handle on the basics, you'll be prepared to get back on the ice and compete.

But unlike other sports, finding the right tools, people, and space necessary to actually play the sport isn't so easy. Fortunately, curling clubs also organize leagues for varying skill levels that provide all of that for you. To play you'll first have to pay a membership fee, but once you've signed up you'll be a part of a team that shares your commitment to the game.

This is the same way many Olympic athletes got involved in the sport, but it's a worthy hobby whether or not you aspire to go for the gold one day. The Oakville Curling Club in Ontario writes on their website: "It is a lifelong sport that can be learned at any age. Whether playing in a fun league or in a competitive ladder the emphasis is always on sportsmanship and fair play. Being a social sport by nature, it is not uncommon for teams to socialize off the ice where lasting friendships are often made."

Check out these cool facts about curling to learn the basics of how the game is played.

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