Though gold, silver, and bronze medals get all of the glory, there's another Olympic award that's even harder to come by. The Pierre de Coubertin medal, named after the founder of the modern Olympics, is given to athletes and people within the sporting industry who epitomize good sportsmanship or particularly noteworthy contributions to the Olympic Games. Unlike the sporting medals, the de Coubertin medal isn't awarded at every cycle of the Games—it's only handed out when the International Olympic Committee feels someone has truly earned it.
On January 15, 2018—just ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea—IOC president Thomas Bach bestowed the award upon Chinese artist Lv Junjie, a master of Zisha, an ancient type of clay that is used to create teaware and other small objects. Bach commended Junjie for using the art to spread the Olympic spirit.
Here are five more of the award's most notable recipients, and what they did to earn the prestigious award.
1. LUZ LONG // 1936
Luz Long (pictured above), a German long jumper, gave American Jesse Owens a tip about where to start after the American athlete had failed two qualifying jumps. “He helped me measure a foot back of the takeoff board—and then I came down and I hit between these two marks. And therefore I qualified,” Owens said in a 1964 documentary. “And that led to the victory in the running broad jump.” Long, who was killed in action during World War II, was posthumously awarded the sportsmanship medal for his act—although many believe that the story was completely made up.
2. EUGENIO MONTI // 1964
During the 1964 Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria, celebrated Italian bobsledder Eugenio Monti heard that the British team, Tony Nash and Robin Dixon, had sheared a key bolt from their bobsled. After his run was complete, Monti offered his rivals a bolt from his own sled—and the Brits ended up winning the gold. (Monti and his teammate came in third.) When he was later asked if he regretted sharing the hardware, Monti replied, “Nash didn’t win the gold medal because I gave him a bolt. He won because he was the fastest.” Though he received the de Coubertin medal, Monti was probably also pretty happy about taking home his own pair of golds four years later at the 1968 Games.
3. LAWRENCE LEMIEUX // 1988
Canadian sailor Lawrence Lemieux was in second place during the Finn class competition at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, when he saw a pair of Singaporean sailors in a nearby race capsize. Realizing they were in danger of being carried out to sea, Lemieux abandoned his race and went to help. After pulling both of the capsized sailors onto his boat, Lemieux waited for more help to arrive before getting back to his own race. Though he eventually finished 11th in the class, he was credited with a second-place finish in that particular race and was awarded the de Coubertin medal.
4. VANDERLEI CORDEIRO DE LIMA // 2004
At the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, Brazilian runner Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima was leading the men's marathon with just four miles to go. Then it happened: A defrocked former Irish priest jumped out of the crowd and detained de Lima for a good seven seconds. Though the delay was brief, it may have cost the athlete a higher finishing spot; he missed gold by more than a minute and silver by more than 40 seconds, but it's hard to say how he would have performed in the last few miles had his concentration not been interrupted. The IOC refused to change the result of the race, but they did give the Brazilian runner the de Coubertin medal in addition to his bronze. More than a decade later, the recognition continued: de Lima was chosen to light the Olympic cauldron in Rio in 2016.
5. SHAUL LADANY // 2007
Self-trained Israeli race walker Shaul Ladany has never medalled at the Olympics, but his perseverance and character count for a lot more. As an 8-year-old, Ladany survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. As if that weren't enough horror for a lifetime, he also survived the Munich Massacre at the 1972 Olympics, even though one newspaper report listed him as a fatality. Perhaps it was his brushes with death that spurred Ladany to achieve so much in life. In addition to his impressive athletic feats (one race walking World Championship win and several gold medals in the Maccabiah Games), Ladany speaks nine languages, holds eight patents, has written more than 100 scholarly papers and a dozen books, and is a professor of industrial engineering. In 2007, he added “Pierre de Coubertin Medal Winner” to his long list of accomplishments when the IOC honored him for “outstanding services to the Olympic Movement.”