They’d worked immensely hard and made extraordinary sacrifices to be able to compete at the Rio Olympic Games. And then suddenly, faster than you can say “I wish I’d tied my shoelaces,” two athletes tripped and went down in the middle of a race, apparently losing any chance at an Olympic medal.
It happened during the women’s 5,000-metre heat. New Zealand track-and-field athlete Nikki Hamblin unexpectedly fell. Then Abbey D’Agostino, an American, stumbled over her and went down.
Other runners streamed past as the women scrambled to recover from what had just happened. Abbey got up first. Did she dash away to try and make up her time? Not even for a second did she look tempted to leave Nikki in her dust. Instead, she bent to help her competitor to her feet.
As Nikki began to pick up the race, she turned to check on Abbey. Her fellow athlete was struggling and in pain. Nikki wouldn’t let her give up. She encouraged her to keep racing, and didn’t run until Abbey was on the move again. “Once you are on the track, there is a mutual understanding of what it takes to get there,” she explained to the International Olympic Committee after the event.
Such a cheer from the crowd when Abbey crossed the finish line – on an injured ankle, and after all the other athletes had marked their time. And such a tight, emotional embrace she shared with Nikki, who was standing by to watch her finish.
Neither athlete qualified for the final event. But in light of their unintentional collision on the track, they both successfully petitioned to participate.
Ultimately, though, Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya set an Olympic record and took the gold in the 5,000-metre event. Nikki and Abbey finished the race in last place.
Did I say last? I meant to say, they’re both winners. This is true both metaphorically and actually: The IOC presented both women with Fair Play Awards for their selflessness and sportsmanship.
That’s the spirit.