• Top Tens: Acts of sportsmanship

Great acts of sportsmanship

Rob Phillips-Knight
April 23, 2010
Tana Umaga stopped Wales captain Colin Charvis from choking by removing his gum shield © Getty Images

English golfer Brian Davis warmed the hearts of the sporting world last weekend when he honourably called a penalty on himself in a play-off at the Verizon Heritage. With the crowd applauding his amazing escape shot from a greenside water hazard, Davis, a journeyman professional, sacrificed his chances of a maiden win on the PGA Tour in favour of honesty. In recognition of the Londoner's actions we take a look back at those who have acted sportingly in the heat of the battle.

Tana Umaga and Colin Charvis
Sportsmanship and the name Tana Umaga may not be synonymous in the minds of most British rugby fans following his infamous spear tackle on Brian O'Driscoll in 2005. However, during New Zealand's 2003 Test match with Wales the powerful centre performed the most noble of acts. With Wales in possession deep in their opponents' 22, captain Colin Charvis made a dart for the try-line only to see his run ended forcefully by All Blacks back row Jerry Collins. The Welshman was knocked out cold from the impact and, as the home side swept forward on a counter-attack, lay lifeless on the Hamilton turf. Umaga, recognising the seriousness of his opponent's state, left his place in an attacking move and ran to the aid of the stricken Charvis, removing his gum-shield before placing him in the recovery position. Umaga received the Pierre de Coubertin medal - becoming the first New Zealander to win the award. The Welsh Rugby Union also presented him with a figurine to honour his display of sportsmanship.

Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin
In 1969, American domination of the Ryder Cup was threatening to render the event meaningless - something hard to imagine nowadays. One man's actions would change that. With both teams locked at 15 ½-15 ½ , the final rubber between Britain's new hope Tony Jacklin and the formidable Jack Nicklaus would decide where the trophy resided for the next two years. Jacklin remained in touch with some deft touches around the greens and as the two men reached the 18th tee the match was all-square. The American played the hole perfectly and holed-out for a regulation par. In contrast, Jacklin faced a tricky three-footer to force the first ever tie in the event. Faced with the chance to be a hero, Nicklaus made one of the great sporting gestures, picking up his opponent's ball marker rather than forcing Jacklin to putt out. Nicklaus told Jacklin: "I don't think you would have missed that Tony, but I didn't want to give you the chance." Nicklaus incurred the wrath of US skipper Sam Snead, but the result set the tone for a more competitive event and laid the seeds for the refurbished version enjoyed by several million people across the globe.

Michael Phelps
The then 19-year-old superstar Michael Phelps took the swimming pool by storm in the 2004 Athens Games. A breathtaking victory on the final stroke of the 100 metre butterfly sealed his fourth gold medal of the Games, making the American the only Olympic athlete since Mark Spitz to win four individual gold medals in one Games. Phelps had the chance to add another medal to his tally in the 4x100m medley relay as part of a strong US line-up, but announced he would step aside "to give a team-mate a chance". Phelps had been harshly treated by the American press prior to the Games, but no-one could ignore the generosity of his decision. "It was the perfect punctuation to Phelps' Olympics," the New York Times wrote.

Nigel Mansell gives world championship rival Ayrton Senna a lift back to the pits after winning the 1991 British Grand Prix © Getty Images

Nigel Mansell
Prior to winning the 1992 Formula 1 World Championship, Nigel Mansell was carving out a reputation to challenge that of Sir Stirling Moss as a great driver who never won the drivers' crown. Ayrton Senna had so often proved the Englishman's nemesis and in 1991 the pair were in close competition once again. So when Mansell managed to hold off the Brazilian's determined challenge for 59 laps he was understandably pleased. In a close race, Senna's McLaren looked the stronger car and it seemed only a matter of time before he passed Mansell's Williams for the lead. However, with 10 laps to go Senna ran out of fuel. Mansell strolled to the win and, on his victory lap, stopped to pick up the stricken Senna who, faced with a long walk back to the garages, had decided to watch the remainder from trackside. Senna waved away several angry race stewards and remained on-board Mansell's car until they arrived at the pits.

Andrew Flintoff and Brett Lee
The 2005 Ashes will forever be remembered for England winning back the urn for the first time since 1987. The turning point of the series came in the second Test at Edgbaston. England played superbly for the first three days and began the fourth day needing just two wickets to level the series. The wicket of Shane Warne moved England to within one dismissal of victory, while Australia required 61 runs to complete the win. In typically spirited style the Australians dug in and began to chip away at the home side's lead, with Brett Lee scoring regularly, despite coming off worse from a number of bouncers from Andrew Flintoff. Lee and new partner Michael Kasprowicz moved Australia to within two runs of winning, but when the new man flailed at a speculative Steve Harmison bouncer the unlikeliest of comeback wins was dead. Lee, so nearly the hero, could not hide his disappointment and remained on the wicket for several seconds before trudging away. Flintoff, recognising his opponent's truly valiant effort, consoled the Australian. "We tried to bowl him out, we tried to knock him out. We tried everything, but he wouldn't budge," Flintoff said. "So after it happened I went over, put my arm around him. I can't remember exactly what I said, but it was some words of consolation - probably the reason why I did it is [because] he did not deserve to be on the losing team - and obviously I have great respect for him."

Robbie Fowler
Some would claim there is no room for sentiment at the business-end of the season - especially in a top-of-the-table clash. However, when Liverpool faced Arsenal at Highbury back in 1997 Robbie Fowler ignored the norm. Put through by Mark Wright's long ball over the top, the Liverpool striker slipped past the advancing David Seaman, losing his balance in the process before falling to the ground. Fowler was honest. He turned to referee Gerald Ashby (and to the TV cameras) and mouthed "No, no", waving dismissively that it was not a penalty. He had simply tripped. Seaman had not touched him. Ashby did not concur and pointed to the spot. As the club's penalty-taker ever since his club debut in 1993 Fowler stepped up and saw his tame effort repelled, only for the on-rushing Jason McAteer to knock home the rebound. Liverpool won the game but not the title.

Sir Stirling Moss
Stirling Moss is considered by many to be the best driver never to win the Formula One World Championship. The London-born driver was determined to become Britain's first world champion but believed the manner in which the battle was fought was as important as the outcome. This sporting attitude was tested to the full in 1958. During that season's Portuguese Grand Prix, championship rival Mike Hawthorn was accused of reversing in the track after spinning his car and threatened with disqualification - a decision that would strip him of second place and seven points. Moss defended Hawthorn, insisting his fellow Englishman should not be penalised. Moss got his way but, despite claiming four race wins to Hawthorne's one, would miss out on the drivers' crown by a single point.

Andy Roddick overturned a linesman's call which could have gifted him the match and went on to lose © Getty Images

Andy Roddick
Serve-and-volley technician Andy Roddick is not known for his expertise on clay, but in 2005 the American was enjoying some fine form on the red dust at the Rome Masters. Leading 5-3 in the second set of his quarter-final encounter with Fernando Verdasco, and with three match points, Roddick watched on as his opponent spun a second serve dangerously close to the left tram-line. The line judge called the ball out, giving Roddick the victory. But the American, seeing the ball mark in the clay, called the serve good, handing Verdasco a reprieve. The Spaniard took full advantage and held serve, before winning the set in a tie-break. Verdasco then won the third set to seal a 6-7 (1) 7-6 (3) 6-4 victory. "I have to thank him. He is a great sportsman," Verdasco said afterwards. "I didn't think it was anything extraordinary. The umpire would have done the same thing if he came down and looked. I just saved him the trip," Roddick explained.

Paolo Di Canio
In 1998 the talented but fiery Italian's stock was at an all time low when he pushed referee Paul Alcock to the ground after being sent-off in Sheffield Wednesday's clash with Arsenal. Fast-forward a few years and the mercurial striker, now plying his trade for West Ham, was a changed man. Di Canio's unselfish act in deliberately abandoning a distinct scoring opportunity so that injured Everton goalkeeper Paul Gerrard might receive immediate attention won the Italian the FIFA Fair Play award and wiped clean his slate of previous offences. "I am not a saint, just like I wasn't a killer three years ago with the referee when I did something wrong," said Di Canio shortly after the game.

John Francome
British Horse racing's greatest sporting gesture came in 1982. In a sport not known for its compassion, jockey John Francome passed up the opportunity to win his fourth outright National Hunt jockeys' championship when closest rival Peter Scudamore suffered a season-ending injury. Francome pulled level with his rival's tally and at that point opted not to ride for the remainder of the season. Francome later said his decision was based on pure respect for his opponent, whom he felt deserved something to show for a fine season.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.