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Justin Wadsworth, head coach of the Canadian ski team, lends a hand to Russian Anton Gafarov who had fallen and broken one of his skis at the Sochi Olympic Games on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 (Screengrab from NBC broadcast)
Justin Wadsworth, head coach of the Canadian ski team, lends a hand to Russian Anton Gafarov who had fallen and broken one of his skis at the Sochi Olympic Games on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 (Screengrab from NBC broadcast)

Canadian ski coach plays Good Samaritan to fallen Russian Add to ...

You don't have to win a medal to be branded an Olympian. Sometimes you don't even have to compete to show what true sportsmanship is about.

Justin Wadsworth proved that.

During the men's cross-country sprint in the mountains above Sochi, Wadsworth, the head coach of the Canadian team, ran onto the course Tuesday to help a Russian skier who had fallen three times and broken a ski.

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The base of Anton Gafarov's left ski had come off. Forget about reaching the podium; Gafarov looked as if he would suffer an inglorious defeat by not finishing the race.

So what compelled Wadsworth to help a rival when no one from the Russian coaching staff rushed to Gafarov's aid?

It just seemed like the Olympic thing to do.

"I was on the course with spare skis and poles for Alex [Harvey, a member of the Canadian team that didn't qualify for the sprint final]," said Wadsworth. "I just went to watch. The Russian fell on the big downhill before the finish area and broke a ski. I was surprised no one else on the course gave him anything.

"I went over and gave him one of Alex's spare skis. It was about giving Gafarov some dignity so he didn't have to walk to the finish area."

Wadsworth was an Olympic skier for the U.S. before becoming a coach.

This was not the first time a coach had helped a cross-country skier from another country. At the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, Sara Renner and Beckie Scott were racing in the team sprint final when Renner broke a pole.

Watching from the sidelines, Norwegian coach Bjornar Hakensmoen gave Renner a new pole which allowed her not only to finish the race but to win a silver medal with Scott. The Norwegians came in fourth, meaning that Hakensmoen's heroics may have cost his own team a medal.

For offering his help to Renner and Scott, Hakensmoen was applauded by Canadians and showered with gifts. Renner sent him a bottle of wine. A Canadian businessman donated 8,000 cans of Maple Syrup to the Norwegian embassy, which was also flooded with letters and phone calls from appreciative Canadians. Hakensmoen rode in the Calgary Stampede parade and had his Turin moment made into a TV commercial.

Asked if he was expecting a parade through Red Square, Wadsworth laughed and replied: "We help because we know everyone works so hard in our sport. Everyone wants fair results. I watched and couldn't understand why no one was helping him. I guess the Russian staff didn't have a spare ski. It was a matter of allowing him to finish the race."

Gafarov finished dead last in his final run and applauded the fans for cheering him to the end.

As for Canadian sportsmanship at the Olympics, Larry Lemieux showed his true colours in the sailing event at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Lemieux sailed off course to help the Singapore entry that had capsized in the water.

Lemieux's rescue efforts scuttled his medal hopes in the Finn class.

However, at the sailing medal ceremony, Juan Antonio Samaranch, the president of the International Olympic Committee, presented Lemieux with the Pierre de Coubertin Medal for Sportsmanship. "You embody all that is right with the Olympic ideal," Samaranch said.