In the same pair as Laurent Dubreuil in the 1000 m long track speed skating event at the Beijing Olympics last February, Dutchman Kai Verbij received, on Tuesday, the best sportsmanship and the related US$50,000 scholarship, which he will donate to UNICEF in his country.
Surprised by Dubreuil's speed in the last crossing with 250 m to go, Verbij got up and retired to avoid the inevitable contact that would have ruined the Lévis skater's race. By doing so, the reigning world champion was giving up on a possible bronze medal.
At the end of his race, Dubreuil praised his opponent's team spirit. Four months later, he is delighted that the Dutch skater is honored by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as part of the VISA prize, which rewards the athlete who has best demonstrated the Olympic values of friendship, inspiration and acceptance.
A popular vote determined the winner. The Ukrainian team received the same award for the Paralympic Games.
“This award is truly deserved,” said the 500m World Cup champion. Kai is a great athlete and I'm proud to say he's my friend. It is the minority of skaters who would have acted this way. It's amazing that he didn't try to pass not knowing what was going to happen. He was having a very good race and had a chance of winning bronze.
Dubreuil's medal chances would have gone up in smoke if Verbij had come into contact with him or caused him to lose his rhythm. “He would have been disqualified and I would have been allowed to skate the event again, but it would have been impossible to do well after clearing 800 meters the first time. I wouldn't have beaten anyone.
The Dutchman does not regret his decision. “I received criticism for not continuing and taking the risk of trying to overtake Laurent,” Verbij said in the IOC statement. Laurent would not have won a medal if I had taken this chance. Laurent is an excellent skater and he fully deserves his medal.
“On the other hand, you always wonder if you made the right decision, but I am very proud that people from all over the world voted for this award and recognized my decision. It makes me feel like I made the right decision. I think the sporting world should reward sportsmanship more than results. »
Dubreuil remembers having experienced a similar situation when the roles were reversed. “It was the 1500m of my first national selections in 2010, he said. It was not my test and I had hit my opponent in the hip. I had heard my trainer [Gregor Jelonek] yelling “go ahead” and I hadn't got up. The crowd reacted.
“After the race, Gregor asked me what I had done, to pursue Dubreuil. I told him that I had listened to him. Gregor had rather shouted “don't go” and I had understood only the first two words. At least my mistake didn't have a big impact.