Introverts Win Gold Medals Too

The world’s biggest stage—the Olympic Games. To medal, especially gold, is to put yourself in the biggest spotlight imaginable. Not everyone loves this.

Take, for example, Christoph Harting of Germany, the 2016 men’s Olympic gold medalist in the discus. While discus is certainly not the center stage sport—gymnastics, swimming, and the running events of track and field take those honors—it is one of the oldest events at the Olympics. It’s been a part of the modern-day Olympics since the first Games in Athens in 1896 and was even included in the ancient Olympiad of 708 BC.

When Christoph’s older brother, Robert Harting, won discus gold in the 2012 London Olympics, it was a scene. He tore off his singlet and paraded around the stadium, flexing and screaming. Later, he got very drunk, lost his credentials, and couldn’t get back into the Athletes’ Village; he slept in a train station. Since London, elder Harting has won three world championships with similar celebratory flair. This year, after knee surgery and a back injury in the preliminary round, he failed to qualify for the finals, which opened the door to his younger brother, Christoph.

Until the final four throws of the competition this year, Christoph sat in silver medal position. In a dramatic turn of events, Christoph was pushed to 4th. Then, in his last attempt, he exceeded everyone else’s mark by throwing his career’s personal best to secure the gold medal. To achieve one’s finest performance when it counts the most is, perhaps, every Olympian’s dream.

Harting was certainly happy and gave a flourished bow, but there was nary a scene like his big brother’s. In fact, Christoph would rather have omitted the media altogether. Rather than loudly celebrating the moment, Harting pined for his people, “I feel so much put on the spot, embarrassed, I do not have to produce a show. I am the Olympic champion. I want to celebrate with my loved ones. Two hours after winning I have not seen them and I’m feeling a bit miserable right now.” He later told the AP, “Extroverts want to be seen. I am an introvert and feel very uncomfortable here.”

While there are stories of Olympian brothers—such as the identical twins Bryan brothers, who played together in doubles tennis, and the wrestling Shulz brothers, who won gold in the same Olympics—no two brothers have ever won back-to-back gold medals in the same event. To my knowledge, none have ever been as publicly polar-opposite in their personality styles as the Harting brothers.

Christoph’s performance is a reminder that quiet can be powerful—mighty enough to propel a two-kilogram object over 68 meters. He reminds us that being accomplished doesn’t require being famous and that sharing one’s achievement with friends and family can be all many of us want.

Christoph Harting showed the world that actions speak louder than words, and, on this most public of stages, he transcended trash talk, hyperbole, and self-aggrandizing to just be himself—an Olympic champion.