Italy's Gianmarco Tamberi and Qatar's Mutaz Essa Barshim react after winning the gold medal in the high jump. GETTY IMAGES

The touching moment of two athletes sharing Olympic gold in a near-empty stadium in Tokyo captured the hearts and imaginations of audiences around the world, then ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Qatar's Mutaz Ezza Barshim embraced his old friend, Italy's Gianmarco Tamberi, at the end of the men's high jump as the judges confirmed a double gold for the pair who have known each other for years. "To be honest, it will never happen again," Barshim told Agence France-Presse in an interview.

"That moment, we'll never share that again. It was a one-time thing. Coming back from injuries and a dark place, I wanted to do something different, something with a different meaning … I'm glad it touched so many people's hearts, but we're sportspeople, we're professionals, we always want to be the best, we have that fire, 'I want to beat you, you want to beat me,'" he explained.

Barshim felt "lucky" to have shared the gold with Tamberi, with whom he has been competing with since 2010. "As professionals we have to deal with a lot, but the biggest is injuries. In 2018, I injured my left Achilles, I broke both my ligaments and it was a very dark time for me, mentally and physically. Gianmarco, my friend, had a similar injury in 2016 just before the Rio Olympics which prevented him from being there," the Qatari recounted.

Qatar's Barshim (R) and Italy's Tamberi shared gold in the high jump at Tokyo 2020. GETTY IMAGES
Qatar's Barshim (R) and Italy's Tamberi shared gold in the high jump at Tokyo 2020. GETTY IMAGES

"When the bar was 2.37 metres in Tokyo and me and him cleared it at the first attempt, we looked back and there was nobody left, it was emotional. So it was a draw. "I asked, 'Can we share?'. The answer was 'yeah it's possible' and that was it! We didn't even discuss it. I looked into Gianmarco's eyes, he looked at me, we jumped, we hugged and the rest is history, it's one of those moments that will stay with you forever," recalls Barshim.

Barshim joked that the the$50,000 (46,000 euros) prize money that World Athletics plans to award to each event winner would also guarantee that there would be no more shared gold. "It's not going to happen anymore, 50 or 500, no sharing!," said the 32-year-old, who also has three outdoor world titles to his name.

"Anything that's offered in terms of a prize is good for the athletes, it's motivation. These athletes work really hard and make sacrifices, and this kind of prize is very important. The prize money in athletics doesn't compare to football or basketball, for example," the Asian pointed out.

The high jumper began his outdoor season with second place at the Xiamen Diamond League meeting last week and will stay in China for the Suzhou of the elite one-day circuit in Suzhou on Saturday before returning to Doha for the next meeting on 10 May.

"After that I'll take some time off and hopefully peak at the Olympics," Barshim said, adding that he was looking forward to the return of fans to the sport's quadrennial showpiece after the covide-tainted Tokyo Games.

"In terms of having the Olympics back with the fans, it's amazing. I love the adrenaline, when the crowd is back, the sound of clapping or screaming, it's like a fighting feeling," he said.

"We didn't have that in Tokyo because of Covid but somehow we felt so ready because it had been postponed for one year. There was a lot of circling, but when it finally happened we were like kids going to Disneyland. We didn't need the fans to feel the hype."