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Sportsmanship: Racer voluntarily DQs after "invisible" straddle

John Emerson

What if you thought that you’d straddled a slalom gate pole, and the gatekeeper missed seeing it? And you earned a good result for you and your team?

            It happened this past February during the New York State Slalom Championships at Bristol Mountain in the Adirondacks. John Emerson, 15, a sophomore at John Jay High School in Westchester County, 30 miles north of Manhattan, was among the youngest in a 64-boy field. Starting 53rd in the first run, he blistered the course, registering the ninth fastest time.

            Against racers with single-digit bib numbers in the second run, he wound up in sixth place, enough for a medal in the NY State Championships.

            Yet something about the run didn’t seem right to Emerson. After the race, he watched the video his father had taken. In super-slow motion, on a large computer monitor, he clearly saw that he’d straddled one of the gates.

            “In real-time it was only a fraction of a second and impossible to see, but in slow motion the video was clear,” wrote Ken Kostick in the Bedford Record Review.

            And so, less than a half hour before the medal ceremonies for the top finishers in the slalom events, Emerson made a startling announcement. He would not accept the fifth-place result, nor the honor that went with it.

            New York State Public High School Athletics Association chief Robert Zayas said at the awards ceremony that he’d never witnessed an act of sportsmanship as great as Emerson’s. Athletes, coaches and parents gave the young man a standing ovation.

            “In a sport with more than 1,300 active high school racers,” said John Jay ski coach Chris Reinke, “John demonstrated the highest level of sportsmanship.”

            “There is no podium for what this individual did,” said John Jay coach Tom Adamec. “It was an act that was selfless, honest, compelled by integrity and, most of all, loyalty to oneself.”

            Chris’ older brother is also a promising racer. Says their father Tony Emerson, “Ski racing involves hard work, danger, speed, brutal weather, how to deal with losing, and more. There’s no better sport to teach kids lessons in adversity.”