Winning an Olympic medal of any metal is no small feat. Even after receiving #23 in Rio, Michael Phelps shed a few tears (opens in new tab). But his unprecedented achievement still falls short of an even rarer Olympic award.
Named after the founder of the modern Olympics, the Pierre de Coubertin medal honors athletes who exemplify the spirit of sportsmanship or exceptional service to the Games. The International Olympic Committee has only given out a dozen or so, and it remains one of the most prestigious awards in all of sports.
Among the more famous recipients is Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima (pictured above). The Brazilian marathoner lost his lead at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens when a crazed spectator jumped out of the crowd, tackling him. de Lima later finished third, saying, "It's bronze but means gold." His grace earned him the de Coubertin medal and the honor of lighting the Olympic cauldron this year in his home country.
Another notable story involves Jesse Owens at the controversial 1936 Summer Games in Berlin. While it's been disputed (opens in new tab), German rival Luz Long helped the American qualify for the long jump, advising him where to place his foot. Owens then won gold in the finals, and the athletes made a powerful statement by embracing in front of Adolf Hitler. They remained friends through World War II, and Long received the award posthumously in 1964.
While these inspiring moments don't happen every day, there's definitely a few athletes in Rio who are worthy of extra recognition.
Yusra Mardini (opens in new tab), an 18-year-old Syrian refugee, earned her place as an Olympic swimmer after saving 20 people in a dangerous journey across the Aegean Sea. Dutch equestrian Adelinde Cornelissen (opens in new tab) dropped out of the dressage event to protect her horse. And let's not forget Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhi (opens in new tab), who broke cultural taboos by discussing her period on national television. "I feel I didn't swim well today — I let my teammates down," she said. "My period came last night and I'm really tired right now. But this isn't an excuse, I still didn't swim as well as I should have."
Most recently, the United States' Abbey D'Agostino and New Zealand's Nikki Hamblin (opens in new tab) helped each other finish the women's 5,000-meter race qualifier after a devastating collision. While the de Coubertin medal isn't awarded every Olympics, this inspiring duo definitely deserves consideration.
[h/t Mental Floss (opens in new tab)
The Best Rain Boots, According to Fashion Editors
Stay dry *and* look cute!
By Julia Marzovilla
Mexico City, A Vibrant Cultural Hot Spot, Is the Perfect Travel Destination
This epicenter of art, history, and food should be on every culture enthusiast's bucket list.
By Gabrielle Ulubay
Can Light Therapy Get Rid of My Acne?
Blue and red light are where it’s at.
By Samantha Holender
U.S. Open Star Sloane Stephens Opens Up About Mental Health
The tennis player and Mercedes-Benz ambassador is giving herself some grace—and, some pizza.
By Megan DiTrolio
Simone Biles Is Out of the Team Final at the Tokyo Olympics
She withdrew from the event due to a medical issue, according to USA Gymnastics.
By Rachel Epstein
Raven Saunders Is Getting Another Shot at Life—and the Gold
The Olympic shot putter almost didn't live to see the Tokyo Games. Now, she's gearing up to compete while advocating for mental health in the sports world and beyond.
By Rachel Epstein
CeCe Telfer Has Already Made History
Olympics or not, the track athlete is changing the future of sports forever.
By Megan DiTrolio
A COVID-19 Surge Is Decimating India's Health Care System—Here's How You Can Help
More than 200,000 have died of COVID-19 in India as the country battles a record high in new coronavirus cases.
By Chelsey Sanchez
Tear Gaslighting: Is There a Link Between Protesting and Messed Up Periods?
Law enforcement has used chemical crowd control agents across the U.S. this summer. Protestors and some experts suspect tear gas exposure is causing abrupt and painful changes to menstrual cycles.
By Catherine Ryan Gregory
These Virtual Mental Health Resources for Black Women Can Make All the Difference
Black lives matter, and so does Black mental health.
By Shannon Barbour
COVID-19 Is Keeping Women From Having Kids
A new survey by SoFi and Modern Fertility finds that the virus has put family planning on pause.
By Serena Tara