Following an Olympic high jump final that produced two winners instead of one, there was only one thing everyone wanted to know.
How could two competitors decide to share an Olympic gold medal?
Mutaz Essa Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi had spent a humid night at National Stadium chasing the ultimate prize in their sport — something they had worked years to win.
They were tied in first place after failing to clear the Olympic record height of 2.39 meters — neither had missed an attempt before that — when the options were laid out for them: go to a jump-off to decide a winner or share the spoils.
"Once we finished with that 2.39 jump, he looked at me, I looked at him (and) we just understood," Barshim said. "There was no need to go. That's it, it wasn't even a question."
They tied for gold at a height of 2.37 meters.
The pair embraced after the final jump of the night as a rules official briefed them on the situation. Barshim, a charismatic Qatari wearing sunglasses at nearly 10 p.m., led the conversation as Tamberi rested his hands on his knees and tried to catch his breath. With everyone watching and waiting, they slapped hands as Tamberi launched into a wild celebration and Barshim coolly waved his hands to signify the competition was over.
"We didn't even listen," Barshim said of their talk with the official. "He didn't even finish."
It's not often two athletes come to a decision like this.
The reason Barshim and Tamberi were able to share the gold medal was because of the bond they shared before these Games.
The jumpers are longtime friends who have the same dream and had overcome similar setbacks in the past. Each man felt the other deserved gold just as much as he did, so they decided they would both wear the medal around their necks.
"I will probably never, ever share a gold medal with anybody else (other) than Mutaz," Tamberi said. "Because we were the only two athletes there that passed through the worst injury a high jumper can pass through. I know what he did to be back and he knows what I did to be back.
"You can't believe the emotion, the dream of a gold medal to somebody who sacrificed his entire life for this and it was just amazing. Sharing with a friend is even more beautiful."
Tamberi became the first Italian man to win an athletics gold medal and stood alone until Lamont Marcell Jacobs won the 100-meter title a few minutes later.
Tamberi cleared 2.39 during a Diamond League meet in 2016 and then tore ligaments in his ankle while trying to go higher. The injury occurred a few weeks before the Rio Olympics and cost him a chance to compete in Brazil. He said the doctor who performed the ensuing surgery was not sure he would ever compete again.
"He told me, 'I don't know if you can jump after this surgery. Just think about walking around to have a normal life and you probably will have it,'" Tamberi recalled. "Being here and I win a gold medal after that, it's not just an Olympic gold medal."
Barshim suffered his ankle injury in Hungary in July 2018, and missed the rest of the season due to ligament damage.
He now has a medal of every color in the Olympic high jump, having won bronze in London in 2012 and silver during the Rio Games in 2016.
"When we say we've been through a lot … we had some days that we couldn't even jog," Barshim said. "I couldn't get out of the bed, I needed help to get out the bed, I needed help to go to the toilet. So this is beyond imagination for me."
Barshim and Tamberi are close enough Tamberi estimated they call each other about every 10 days. Their friendship led to one of the most memorable scenes of these Games on what Tamberi called a "magical" night.
They were Olympic champions together, and neither showed any regret about turning down a chance to claim the prize for himself.
"I know for a fact, for the performance we've been putting (in), I deserved that gold," Barshim said. "And he did the same thing, so I know he deserved that gold.
"So it wasn't even a question."
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