RIO DE JANEIRO — After winning an unprecedented six gold medals in moral behavior at the 2012 London Olympics, the American ethical athlete Mildred Pauley confessed she was exhausted and ready to retire. And, in fact, she did take more than a year off from the sport, during which time she abandoned any pretense of goodness and swore off virtue in any of its forms.
But on Thursday evening in Rio, before 90,000 screaming fans at Benevolencia Arena, the saintly Pauley roared back in stunning fashion, turning in one morally dazzling performance after another and seizing gold in four events — kindness, helpfulness, generosity of spirit, and selfless giving of her time.
In her signature event — selfless giving of her time — Pauley did what no ethical athlete had ever done, going more than 17 hours without for a moment thinking of herself. It was by all accounts the greatest display of selflessness in the modern era. Her time of 17:02:51 smashed the record she set in London by an astounding 3 minutes and 29 seconds. In her performance, she loaded a van with basic medical supplies and delivered them to 14 ramshackle hospitals in poor sections of Rio and beyond, all the while thinking only of others and how she could better serve them.
At one point in the competition, lurching and bouncing along a deeply rutted dirt road to the 11th hospital — and with three flat tires and no spares — Pauley appeared to have morally wobbled by thinking of herself for a fraction of a second. But the five judges couldn’t agree on whether she had indeed faltered and so they waved her on. Later, slow-motion replay using MRI freeze-frame imaging of Pauley’s mental activity during the moment in question supported her claim that she had not in fact thought of herself, even for an instant.
Pauley’s fiercest rivals were in awe of her achievement.
“What she did out there was unreal, just ridiculous,” said bronze medalist Yulia Timoshenko of Ukraine, whose performance involved little more than sitting on a bench outside the arena and tossing cheap candy to homeless children. “None of us can challenge her — it’s as if she’s alone in the field, competing only against herself and the clock. The way she’s performing right now, I honestly think Jesus himself would have trouble beating her.”