Everyone loves a champion, especially when the winner represents the country we call home. Seeing a dedicated athlete standing on the tallest podium, a gold medal around their neck, the national anthem playing as the flag is raised—it’s enough to inspire a bit of patriotism in even the most hardened of hearts.
But the idea of a champion sharing that top podium with another country’s athlete is apparently a bridge too far for some, as American pole vaulter Katie Moon (formerly Katie Negeotte) found out at the 2023 World Athletics Championships.
Moon and Australian pole vaulter Nina Kennedy tied for gold at the competition, each clearing 4.9 meters and and then falling three times on their attempts at 4.95 meters. Rather than continue competing to see who would be the sole winner, both women opted to share the World Champion title.
For some, it was a lovely bit of mutual sportsmanship, but for others, it was an unwelcome concession. In a viral post on Facebook, Moon shared that some people had called her and Kennedy “cowards,” “shameful” and “pathetic” for their decision to share the win.
Though she didn’t owe anyone an explanation, Moon decided to offer one anyway.
“I know you can’t make everyone happy in this world, but in an effort to help people understand the sport that I love so much, I would like to explain my mentality in that moment,” she wrote. “The pole vault is not an endurance event. We have a short window of jumps. Once the fatigue sets in, it not only becomes more difficult, but dangerous. The sport has seen everything from athletes just landing funny with minor tweaks, to horrific accidents.”
Moon explained that a World Championship is more draining from an emotional standpoint than a regular competition, in addition to the obvious physical demand. She and Kennedy had vaulted for nearly four hours in 85-degree heat and were both exhausted.
“My step (the point where I jump off the ground into the takeoff) to vault safely has to be in almost the exact same spot every time, give or take a few inches,” she went on. “My last few jumps, that takeoff step was moving further and further out, giving us real data showing my fatigue even with adrenaline. To walk away healthy and with a gold medal, while celebrating with my friend that had jumped just as well, was a no-brainer. Part of the reason we’ve reached the highest level is by listening to our bodies, and knowing our limitations.”
To say that I’ve seen mixed…
This is such an important point and one that truly can’t be overemphasized. We saw similar negative reactions from people when Simone Biles got the “twisties” during her last Olympics. She knew her body, she knew something wasn’t right, and yet people still chastised her for not pushing herself to continue competing—as if she hadn’t already proven that she had the heart and soul of a champion time and time again.
Moon finished her explanation with no apology and no regrets: “We decided that in this particular moment, sharing glory was just as good as earning it outright. I understand that people want to see a clear winner. It is the exciting part of sport. But in this instance, it was without a doubt the right decision, and one that I will never regret. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need a ‘win at all cost’ mindset to have a champion’s mentality.”
That line is worth repeating: “You do not need a ‘win at all cost’ mindset to have a champion’s mentality.”
It’s actually OK for there to be two gold medal winners, especially at the highest level of competition. We know these athletes are giving it their all. We know they’ve trained as much as they possibly can for a world championship competition. If two athletes show up with equal ability at the top of their sport, more power to them.
Moon’s defense of her decision to share the gold wasn’t necessary, but her explanation of the risks athletes take when they push themselves too far is a helpful one. Sports competitions are meant to celebrate excellence and make us all better for it, and if the person actually standing on the podium is happy about the outcome, it’s no one’s place to take that away from them. Thank you, Katie Moon, for the beautiful reminder.