‘Nine Gold Medals’ by David Lee Roth is a poem about compassion and brotherhood. The poem presents how a collaborative mindset is the need of the hour in this world of ruthless competition. According to the poet, when the competitive world holds one back, others should not restrain themselves from helping. Life is not about winning the race. The most important thing is how one ends the race of life with a smile and holding hands with others. Through the text, David Roth tried to spread this message of universal brotherhood.
‘Nine Gold Medals’ by David Roth talks about nine athletes who had come from different countries to run the hundred-yard dash event in the Special Olympics. They trained hard for the event and eventually, the day arrived. Spectators filled the blocks, and they observed those nine athletes warming up for the dash. With the sound of the gun, the race began. But, one of them stumbled and fell. Interestingly, the contestants came forward to help the youngest of them all. In the end, they held hands and completed the race with the spirit of togetherness. Above them, the banner of “Special Olympics” fluttered and the smiling faces below said much more than the words could convey.
You can read the full poem here.
‘Nine Gold Medals’ by David Lee Roth consists of nine four-line stanzas and a stanza containing one line in it. So, there are a total of ten stanzas in this song. Moreover, the poem doesn’t contain any specific rhyme scheme. However, there are some instances of slant rhymes in the poem. As an example, the lines of the fourth stanza somehow rhymes together. Apart from that, the last two lines of the poem end in a regular rhyming pattern. The metrical composition of this song is interesting enough. The first three stanzas of the poem are mostly composed of the anapestic meter with occasional uses of the iambic meter. Moreover, the meters used in this song are closely associated with the sense of the lines.
As an example, the contraction in the last line of the third stanza, “Poised for the sound of the gun”, creates tension in the poem. Along with that, the trochaic foot at the beginning also helps in creating this tense mood. Moreover, the poet also uses spondees in the poem. For an instance, “nine gold” contains two stressed syllables and it’s an example of a spondee.
‘Nine Gold Medals’ by David Roth contains the use of metonymy in the second line of the first stanza. Here, the medals symbolize the top three positions in the event. There is a personification in the second stanza. In the last line of this stanza, the poet invests “Excitement” with the idea of growing high. In the following stanza, the poet uses a metaphor for physical equilibrium in the last line. Moreover, the poet makes use of onomatopoeia by referring to the explosion of the pistol. It is not that the poet doesn’t use alliteration or repetition in the poem. The use of alliteration is present in phrases such as, “stumbled and staggered” and “dashed in the dirt”.
However, there is a zeugma in the line, “His dreams and his efforts all dashed in the dirt”. There is a hendiadys in the phrase, “in frustration and anguish” of the previous line. Apart from that, there is a metaphor in “nine gold medals”. And, the last two lines of the song acts as a refrain emphasizing the underlying idea.
‘Nine Gold Medals’ by David Roth contains several themes like brotherhood, compassion, competition vs collaboration, and victory vs loss. The theme of brotherhood is the foremost ingredient of the poem that comes out victorious in the competitive environment of the poem. Moreover, the poet talks about how compassion among humans is one of the important virtues that binds everybody together. Apart from that, the subject matter of the poem depicts the victory of athletes who relied on the spirit of companionship and collaboration even if they were in the middle of a competition. Last but not least, the theme of true victory gets a beautiful representation in the poem. The smiling faces of the contestants reflect what real victory is. It isn’t about winning the race, rather it’s about winning hearts and keeping the spirit of humanity alive.
‘Nine Gold Medals’ by David Roth makes use of different images. There are several visual imageries like the depiction of the stadium, the athletes getting ready in track and running, the fall of the youngest athlete in the middle of the race, and the banner of the “Special Olympics”. Moreover, “the sound of the gun” consists of auditory imagery. However, the poem, from the beginning to the end, is woven by vibrant images. The description of the athletes’ arrival and getting ready for the race in the first few stanzas show the plot in flashback. Then, comes the real event in which the moral is present. In this section, the poet uses images to refer to their movement as well as the main action of the poem. Moreover, the inspiring images in the penultimate section make the whole journey of the poem a rewarding adventure.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
The athletes had come from all over the country
And all coming down to these games
‘Nine Gold Medals’ by David Roth gives a preliminary sketch of the athletes who were going to participate in the hundred-yard sprint event of the “Special Olympics”. The athletes had trained hard for a long period. They had only one aim in their mind, to bag any one of the top three spots. As it would bring glory to their career as well as their country.
The spectators gathered around the old field
Excitement grew high to begin
In the second stanza of ‘Nine Gold Medals’, David Roth shifts to the main image of the poem. After the description of the athletes in the previous stanza, now the poet depicts the “old field” and the “spectators” gathered there to watch the “final event” of the day. This event was also a climactic event in those athletes’ careers. Moreover, the last line of this stanza depicts how excited the spectators were about the event as well as the contestants.
The blocks were all lined up for those who would use them
Poised for the sound of the gun
In the third stanza of ‘Nine Gold Medals’, the poet moves the focus of the poem from the gallery to the “blocks”. The athletes were getting themselves ready for the ultimate action. Along with the line, “Poised for the sound of the gun” a sense of tension builds up in the poem. However, there is anaphora in the first two lines of this stanza, which is meant for the sake of emphasis.
The signal was given, the pistol exploded
And fell to the asphalt instead
In the fourth stanza of ‘Nine Gold Medals’, the poet talks about two major actions of the poem. The first one is about race. And, the second and most important action of the poem is present in these lines, “But the smallest among them, he stumbled and staggered/ And fell to the asphalt instead”. This section refers to the picture of the weaker ones who stumble down at any point in their lives. Here, the “smallest athlete” is a representative of the weaker section of society.
He gave out a cry in frustration and anguish
The same goes for what next occurred
In the fifth stanza of ‘Nine Gold Medals’, David Roth captures the reaction of the athlete who fell. He had been waiting for that event. But, the incident took everything away from his eyes. It filled him with utter frustration and anguish. However, the poetic persona of the poem directly appears in this section. He refers to the events followed after what happened with the athlete during the race.
The eight other runners pulled up on their heels
And brought the young boy to his feet
In the sixth stanza of ‘Nine Gold Medals’, the eight other contestants of the event came to help the athlete one by one. Paradoxically, they forgot about the race and interestingly moved forward. They stopped running not for helping the person only but for keeping the spirit of humanity alive. The contestants brought the boy again on his feet as a gesture of brotherhood and compassion.
Then all the nine runners joined hands and continued
Could not have been more on the mark
In the seventh stanza of ‘Nine Gold Medals’, David Roth describes how the nine runners joining their hands continued the race together. That time, they didn’t run for the sake of winning the race. They walked together reminding others about the importance of compassion above all. Their gesture exemplified why it was called “Special Olympics”. Here, the poet uses the word “special” interestingly. It refers to the athletes who made the moment special.
For that’s how the race ended, with nine gold medals
Said more than these words ever will
In this stanza of ‘Nine Gold Medals’, the poet talks about how the race ended. The athletes came to the finishing line holding hands and there was a smile on each face. According to the poet, the faces were metaphorically “beaming” like the sun. Their gesture along with the victorious smile said much more than the words of the poem can convey.
That’s how the race ended, with nine gold medals
Said more than these words ever will
In the ninth stanza of ‘Nine Gold Medals’, the first line is a refrain. In this line, the poet says that all of them were winners. Hence, he uses the phrase, “with nine gold medals”. Moreover, the reference to the “Special Olympics” in this stanza reaffirms how people can make their lives special with love and brotherhood.
So much more than these words ever will
In the last line of ‘Nine Gold Medals’, David Roth again uses the refrain from the previous stanza for the sake of emphasizing the message the poet wants to give to the readers.
‘Nine Gold Medals’ by David Lee Roth is based on a true event that occurred during the Special Olympics of 1976. The “linked arms race” incident took place in the Olympics for differently-abled persons held in Spokane, Washington. According to the Special Olympics Washington office, a contestant of the track-and-field event tumbled down and one or two athletes turned back to help him. Thereafter, they walked to the finish line holding hands. Whereas, others continued to run their race.
Like ‘Nine Gold Medals’ by David Roth, here is a list of a few poems that are similar to Roth’s poem.
- No Men Are Foreign by James Kirkup – Here, James Kirkup reinstates the fact that all men are the same and special.
- The Cold Within by James Patrick Kinney – Here, James Patrick Kinney talks about the role of compassion in modern society.
- To an Athlete Dying Young by A.E. Housman – Here, A.E. Housman presents a tragic story of an athlete who has died a premature death.
- Once the World Was Perfect by Joy Harjo – Here, Joy Harjo explores the perfect state of the world.
You can read about 10 of the Best Poems About Friendship here.