Abbey D’Agostino’s time in her first Olympic race Tuesday morning was far from a personal best.
Instead, and perhaps more importantly, she showed the entire world the best of her personality.
In the midst of the second qualifying heat of the women’s 5,000-meter run in Rio de Janeiro, Topsfield’s D’Agostino became tangled with New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin. The pair tumbled to the track and while D’Agostino was the first to rise, she didn’t run off trying to catch up to the other competitors.
The 24-year-old American instead bent down to encourage Hamblin to keep going. “Get up. We have to finish this,” D’Agostino whispered.
“I was like, “Yup, yup, you’re right. This is the Olympics Games. We have to finish this,’” Hamblin said.
Images of the two world-class runners setting aside their own competitive hopes to look out for each other quickly spread around the world.
“That girl is the Olympic spirit right there,” Hamblin said of D’Agostino. “I’ve never met her before. Like I never met this girl before. And isn’t that just so amazing? Such an amazing woman.”
Back home, where D’Agostino grew up as a track star at Masconomet Regional High School and later won seven NCAA titles at Dartmouth College, the selfless and heart-warming display came as no surprise.
It was just Abbey being Abbey.
“All the qualities that make Abbey who she is — patience, selflessness, loyalty, grace — were put out there on the track,” said Lindsay Walsh, a Swampscott native who ran with D’Agostino at Dartmouth.
“From workouts to distance runs to races, Abbey always put others before herself. Her actions today speak volumes to that,” said Walsh.
D’Agostino seemed to take the worst of the spill. When she and Hamblin began to jog, D’Agostino had trouble putting weight on her ankle. Visibly in pain, she somehow summoned the strength to run the mile-plus that remained in the 5,000-meter (3.125-mile) race.
“It’s inspiring. Abbey always had this intense determination and I had a feeling that might get her to the Olympics someday. It got her through (Tuesday),” said Sarah Barrett, a track teammate and co-captain of D’Agostino’s in Masco’s Class of 2010. “She’s always been a team player — the type of person who would cheer for everyone else, even when she was running a race at the same time.”
When D’Agostino crossed the finish line, Hamblin was there waiting for her. Capturing the Olympic spirit of sportsmanship, they hugged until D’Agostino sat in a wheelchair. Before leaving the track, she stretched out her right hand and the two runners held onto each other’s forearms for a few seconds.
“I didn’t even realize she was still running. When I turned around at the finish line and she’s still running, I was like, wow,” Hamblin said. “I’m never going to forget that moment. When someone asks me what happened in Rio in 20 years’ time, that’s my story.”
Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana won the second heat of the women’s 5,000 in a time of 15:04.35. D’Agostino’s official time was 17:10, but in the hours after the race Rio officials granted protests by D’Agostino, Hamblin and Jennifer Wenth.
By ruling that the collision was not the fault of any of the three runners, they’re automatically advanced to Friday’s 5,000-meter final. Normally, 15 runners qualify out of the two heats; the successful protest simply extends the field to 18 runners.
D’Agostino’s coach Mark Coogan told reporters in Rio she was in good spirits and was having an MRI Tuesday afternoon. It’s not clear if she’ll be able to toe the line Friday night, though that seems trivial when compared to the enormous impact her display of sportsmanship had on the Olympic community.
“Abbey’s love for running goes well beyond the time on the clock or any individual race,” said Walsh. “I’m so proud to call her a dear friend, mentor and teammate. I can’t wait to see what she can bring to the Olympic finals.”
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.