For Abbey D’Agostino ’14, a Fall—and a True Olympic Moment

The alumna tumbles in Rio but gets up, helps another fallen runner, and finishes the race.

UPDATE: Abbey D’Agostino’s hope of running in the 5000 meter final at the Rio 2016 Olympics ended Wednesday with her announcement that she tore her ACL in her fall during Tuesday’s qualifier. But D’Agostino’s offering of help to fallen fellow runner Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand, and her grit in finishing the last mile of the race with her injury has won her a permanent place in the annals of Olympic history.

The world was introduced to Abbey D’Agostino ’14 as a symbol of the true Olympic spirit Tuesday morning when she helped competitor Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand to her feet after the two tripped up and fell hard during the women’s 5000-meter qualifying race at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

They both resumed the race, but moments later D’Agostino’s legs buckled and she went down again.

“Hamblin, who was now in tears, stopped this time and tried to assist D’Agostino back up. D’Agostino told Hamblin to go on without her, and Hamblin went on to finish the race well back of the leaders in 15th place,” reported Jonathan Gault ’13, who is in Rio reporting for the website letsrun.com.

D’Agostino, the most decorated athlete in Ivy League history while at Dartmouth, was able to get back on her feet and run the last mile of the race as the NBC announcers narrated her finish: “You see D’Agostino and the anguish on her face. … Brave, brave running for D’Agostino just to make those last few laps. … There she is—valiant effort to cross the finish line.”

After her finish, she was embraced by Hamblin before leaving the track in a wheelchair. Social media and news sites lit up with praise for D’Agostino and Hamblin’s demonstration of “beautiful sportsmanship.”

Hamblin’s reaction was widely reported in the media as she spoke on the track: “I’m so grateful for Abbey doing that for me. I mean, that girl is the Olympic spirit right there.”

D’Agostino finished 16th in the heat, with a time of 17:10.02, and 30th overall, but word soon came from USA Track and Field that finishing the race allowed both runners to protest that they were tripped up. The Olympic judges ruled that they would advance to the 5000-meter final on Friday.

Whether D’Agostino will be able to run remains a question. Gault reported that she went to the Olympic Village after the race for an MRI to check for ligament damage in her knee. On Twitter, Gault tweeted that D’Agostino’s coach, Mark Coogan, who also coached her at Dartmouth, commented that “she is in good spirits and felt good in the race, too.”

Later, Hamblin praised D’Agostino warmly, Gault reported. “I finished and I had a lonely last four laps but she ran four and a half laps barely being able to run. I’m so impressed and inspired that she did that. I’ve never met her before. Like, I’ve never met this girl before. And isn’t that just so amazing? That’s an amazing moment. Regardless of the race and the result on the board, that’s a moment that you’re never, ever going to forget. The rest of your life, it’s going to be that girl shaking my shoulder like ‘Come on, get up.’ ”

Back on the Dartmouth campus, almost everyone in the athletics building was streaming the race live, said Barry Harwick, the Marjorie and Herbert Chase ’30 Director of Track and Field and Cross Country. “When I saw her go down a second time, I said, oh no. It’s devastating after all Abbey overcame to get to Rio.” D’Agostino missed qualifying for the games four years ago by less than a second.

She handled the situation with characteristic grace, he said. “It did not surprise me to see her reach down and help another runner. Her immediate instinct is to help someone else.”

Whether she can run on Friday “will be a game-day decision I’m sure,” he said, but she will certainly be working hard at therapy.

“Abbey’s not a quitter in any way, shape, or form,” Harwick said. “If there is any way she can get on the line Friday, I’m sure she will give it her best.”