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How Shawn Crawford won much more than a medal

December 5, 2008 |  3:37 pm

From left, Brian Dzingai of Zimbabwe, Jamaica's Usain Bolt and Shawn Crawford.

It never has been easy to know what to make of Shawn Crawford.

The guy got a reputation as a flake by racing against a giraffe and a zebra on a reality TV show. (He beat the giraffe, then lost to the zebra, but demanded another shot because the zebra had false-started. Crawford lost the rematch as well).

He ran in a Phantom of the Opera mask at an international meet in Italy. (The mask slipped, covered his eyes and led to his disqualification for running out of his lane).

He steadfastly refuses to bash his former coach, Trevor Graham, one of the most disgraced figures in the Balco doping scandal. Crawford was working under Graham when he won the 200-meter gold in the 2004 Olympics, yet the runner does not think that association casts a shadow over such achievements.

"Am I worried? No, because I don't care about somebody's reputation," Crawford told me at the 2008 U.S. Olympic trials. "He makes decisions for him, I make decisions for me. Whatever he did with anybody else, I'm not worried about it, because I know what I did. So I can't hold that against a person. People make mistakes. I didn't make those mistakes so I'm not worried about it."

You can give Crawford the prize for naivete.

Or for being loyal to a fault.

Or for stubbornness.

Or you can give him the prize a rival thinks Crawford deserves after one of the best gestures of sportsmanship I ever have heard about.

It is summed up on the home page of Churandy Martina’s website, www.churandy.com. In the lower right hand corner, Martina says: "I truly hope Crawf gets the international Fairplay award for this!"

He was talking about Crawford’s decision to give Martina, who is from the Netherlands Antilles, the Olympic silver medal the U.S. runner had won after a bizarre series of events in the 200-meter final at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Crawford can’t talk about this, said his agent, Kimberly Holland, because the race results are under appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which this week postponed a hearing on the matter to Jan. 15.

But Martina noted on the web site, "Yes!! It is true, Shawn gave me my Olympic medal back.’’ The site also has a picture of Martina wearing the medal.

It is a medal Crawford felt uncomfortable about getting within minutes after the

race, in which he had crossed the finish line fourth.

First Crawford learned his teammate and friend, bronze medalist Wallace Spearmon, was disqualified for a lane violation.

That news flashed on the stadium video board when Spearmon was finishing the medalists’ lap of honor. A crestfallen Spearmon pitched the American flag he had been carrying to Crawford, who took the flag and walked quietly out of view, saying later he knew it would not be classy to take his own honor lap under the circumstances.

"Every time I look at it, I'm going to be like: 'This medal was given to me. I don't deserve it,' " Crawford said, referring to the bronze.

A couple of hours later, he learned that silver medalist Martina also was disqualified for a lane violation. So Crawford eventually got the silver in the awards ceremony.

On Sept. 5, the CAS announced that the Netherlands Antilles had asked the court to invalidate the international track federation’s DQ procedure and to give the silver medal back to Martina.

But Crawford effectively had rendered the appeal moot a week earlier by giving the silver medal to Martina when the runners were in Zurich for the season’s biggest one-day meet.

According to a story by Dave Ungrady on UniversalSports.com, an unidentified caller left Martina a message saying there was a package for him at the front desk of his Zurich hotel. In the package? Crawford’s silver medal.

Martina said Crawford later explained his action the same way he had expressed his feelings in Beijing: Crawford felt he did not deserve the medal.

So he gave it to Martina, with no fanfare, no self-serving publicity, nothing but an apparent desire to do what he felt was the right thing.

"It's a tremendous gesture on his part, in the best spirit of the Olympic ideals," U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive Jim Scherr told me Friday.

What to make of Shawn Crawford?

An extraordinary example of sportsmanship.

-- Philip Hersh

Photo: From left, Brian Dzingai of Zimbabwe, Jamaica's Usain Bolt and Shawn Crawford prepare for the men's 200-meter final on Aug. 20 at the National Stadium during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Credit: Carl De Souza / AFP / Getty Images

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