Heroes and legends as role models

Sport has an incomparable power of conveying common values and uniting people all over the world.

Wilma RudolphJesse Owens

It does not only take sporting triumphs, world records and gold medals to transform successful athletes into role models of entire generations. Quite often, it is the story behind the sportsman or sportswoman which touches the people profoundly and serves as inspiration for their own lives.
Heroes and legends of sport ensure by their ideal performances that the universal rules and values of sport are recognized as desirable and worth to be protected. To empathically share moments of excellence in sport – or even events of tragic defeats – creates a powerful sense of brotherhood, across all borders. Extensive media attention enables especially successful athletes to raise global attention for conflicts, disgraceful situations and also for positive developments. It is only logical that successful athletes often support humanitarian organizations, for example Johann Olav Koss, Ambassador for Olympic Aid and UNICEF, and Roger Federer, UNICEF ambassador, or even set up their own charities, such as the “Wilma Rudolph Foundation” to support black young female athletes.

Role models for cultural understanding

Cathy Freeman: She was the first member of the Aborigines to participate in the Olympic Games and to light the Olympic fire at Olympic Games. Only a few days later she won gold at the Sydney Olympics in one of the most emotional sporting races of all time putting a whole continent into a state of ecstasy and reuniting the people of her country. As an ambassador of her people, the Aborigines, she made the Australian and the world public pay attention on their situation, because she had to experience the numerous problem facing the Australian Aborigines on herself.

Jesse Owens: His stunning victories and achievement of four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin has made him the best remembered of all Olympic athletes. A gesture of brotherhood is particularly remarkable in his career: In the second competition at the Olympics 1936, the long jump, Owens was about to fail the qualification after two unsuccessful attempts. The German Carl Ludwig “Luz” Long, who at that time set a new Olympic record, gave him an important indication, whereupon Owens qualified and ultimately won gold, while Long won silver. Jesse Owens about this moment: “It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler. You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn‘t be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment (…)”

Rafer Johnson and Wilma Rudolph: The American decathlete Rafer Lewis Johnson was the first black athlete to bear the American banner at the entry of the American team into the Olympic Stadium in Rome 1960 – a moment of worldwide media attention and a milestone on the path of rapprochement between “black” and “white”. The great successes of Wilma Rudolph in Rome equally influenced history: In spite of her polio illness during her childhood the American athlete won three gold medals at these Olympic games. She did not accept celebrations and parades to welcome her in the United States after the Games until an equal treatment of black and white participants was ensured.

Examples of social dedication

Pelé: The native Brazil is a not only a national hero, he is widely regarded as the greatest footballer of all time and a sporting legend. Being the all-time leading scorer of the Brazil national football team and the only player in the world to have three World Cup winning medals, he is known for his accomplishments and contributions to the game of football. Pelé has become ambassador for various bodies, such as football ambassador of the world by FIFA in 1977. In 1992 he was appointed UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. He is also acknowledged for his vocal support of policies to improve the social conditions of the poor.

Franz Beckenbauer: The legendary German football coach, manager and former player, nicknamed “Der Kaiser” is generally regarded as the greatest German footballer of all time and one of the greatest footballers in the history of the game. Beckenbauer is credited for having invented the role of the modern sweeper or “libero”. He played this role in three World Cups and lifted the Cup as captain in 1974 and as coach in 1990. After his splendid career, he established the Franz Beckenbauer Foundation for supporting people with physical and mental handicaps or public institutions who stand in need of financial support.

Zinédine Zidane: The French retired footballer is widely regarded as one of the game's all-time greats. He played for various club teams in Europe and was a member of the French national team. He won the 1998 World Cup and the Euro 2000 as well as the 2002 UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid. Zidane was elected one of only two three-time FIFA World Player of the Year. He and former Real Madrid teammate Ronaldo, who collaborated in conceiving the yearly event to benefit the UN Development Programme, regularly captain their respective teams consisting of active footballers, other professional athletes and celebrities. Being UN Goodwill Ambassador since 2001, he stated that “everyone can do something to make the world a better place”.

Ronaldo: The Brazilian football player was one of the most prolific scorers in the 90s and in the early 21st century. Ronaldo was elected European Footballer of the Year twice. He is also one of only two men to have won the FIFA Player of the Year award three times. In 2007, he was named to the FIFA 100, a list of the greatest footballers compiled by fellow countryman Pelé. Since February 2010, Ronaldo plays with Sao Paulo‘s team „Corinthians“ but he plans to retire after the season of 2011. By then, he has played for Brazil in 97 international matches, scoring 62 goals. He won two World Cups and during the 2006 World Cup, he became the highest goalscorer in the history of the World Cup with fifteen goals in total. Like Zidane, Ronaldo became UNDP Goodwill Ambassador in 2001.

Stronger than destiny

Dan Jansen: The favoured speedskater at the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary, Canada, Dan needed all the courage he could gather when, on the day he was to race in the 500 meters, his sister Jane died from leukaemia. One hundred meters into the race, Dan fell. He fell again four days later in the 1000-meter race while on a world record pace. Dan‘s last shot at an elusive Olympic medal came in 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway. Again the favourite in the 500, Dan was on another world record pace when the unfathomable happened again, a slip in the finals .… no medal. Four days later Dan had the very last opportunity of his
Olympic career to honour the death of his sister, he skated his last Olympic race, the 1000 meters, where he finally raced to a world record and the Olympic gold. Dan dedicated his gold-medal performance to his sister.

Nathalie du Toit: In February 2001 the South African swimmer Nathalie du Toit drove with her scooter from training to school. She was hit by a car. After this accident she had her left leg amputated at the knee. “Since I was six, I have dreamed of Olympia. The fact that I had lost my leg, has never changed anything about that”, she said. In Beijing, the 24years old swimmer was the first athlete with an amputated leg to finish the 10-kilometres distance, she beat many of her competitors, overcame all obstacles and lived her dream.

Oscar Pistorius: The South African sprinter and world record holder, also known as the „fastest man on no legs“, had to suffer from a genetic deficiency from his birth. He had only two toes, bones on the inside of the foot and the heel. At the age of 11 months, his legs were amputated below the knee. Through specially prepared prostheses made of carbon, he is able to run. Nevertheless, the exceptional athlete has always been thrilled by sports. He won several gold medals at the Paralympics – the latest in Beijing‘s over 100-metres. And he still has a big target: He would like to be the first sprinter with prostheses to participate in the Olympic Games. His motto: “You are not disabled by the disabilities you have – you are abled by the abilities you have.”

Maarten van der Weijden: Seven years ago, the Dutch swimmer Maarten van der Weijden fell ill with leukaemia. During his treatments in hospital the 27 years-old athlete had to endure tremendous pain. But he always had patience, he says today. And he overcame the blood cancer. He also showed patience in the 10-kilometres race at the Olympic Games in Beijing 2008: After a gripping final spurt he won gold.