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Throwback: Monti’s magnificent sportsmanship merits special Olympic award in Austria

Rene Maheu (1905 - 1975), Director-General of UNESCO, awards the International Fair Play trophy to Italian bobsleigh champion Eugenio Monti (1928 - 2003), 20th May 1965. Looking on are French tennis champion Jean Borotra (1898 - 1994, centre left) and Maurice Herzog (centre right), French Minister of Youth and Sport. Monti won the award for an act of sportsmanship during the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

February 1st, 1964

Eugenio Monti was widely regarded as the finest bobsleigh driver of the 1950s and 1960s, winning nine World Championships and two Olympic golds, yet he will forever be remembered for an act of outstanding sportsmanship.

The 36-year-old and his brakeman, Sergio Siorpaes, went into the Olympic Winter Games Innsbruck 1964 as the favourites in the two-man event. Monti had won silver at Stockholm 1956 with Renzo Alvera and was only denied the chance of glory at Squaw Valley 1960 because the organisers ran out of the time and money to build a bobsled track.

Following the two runs of the first day on the artificial track in Igls, Innsbruck, Britain’s Tony Nash and Robin Dixon led the field. They dropped to second after the third run on day two, but something more calamitous had happened – the rear axel bolt on their sled had sheared off and they had no spare.

This could have derailed their bid for gold, but Monti stepped forward to give them the bolt from his sled. The British pair went on to record the fastest time in the fourth and final run and won gold by just 0.12 seconds from Italians Sergio Zardini and Romaro Bonagura, with Monti and Siorpaes in bronze.

Afterwards Monti modestly said: “Nash didn’t win the gold because I gave him that bolt, but because he was the fastest.”

“Nash didn’t win the gold because I gave him that bolt, but because he was the fastest.”

Four days later, in the four-man event, there was an amazing case of déjà vu. The rear axel on the Canadian sled was damaged and Monti and his mechanics repaired it.

The Canadian team won gold, with Monti’s team taking bronze. Days later, Monti became the first recipient of the Pierre de Coubertin Medal for Olympic Sportsmanship.

Nash enthused: “It was more than deserved. He was a wonderful man and a great friend.’

The Italian finally won an improbable Olympic gold at the Grenoble 1968 when, aged 40, he won the two-man event with Luciano de Paolis – following it up with victory in the fours.

These were two of the most popular victories in the history of the Olympic Winter Games.

 

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