Before the Rio Olympics, Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand and Abbey D’Agostino of the United States shared an agent but had never met. By the end, they forged a permanent bond through their show of class and sportsmanship that will stand as a lasting embodiment of the Olympic ideals. All it took to bring them together was a devastating collision.
A little more than halfway through the semifinals of the women’s 5,000 meters, the two got tangled with other runners in the pack and fell. Abbey got to her feet first and encouraged a struggling Nikki. “Suddenly there’s this hand on my shoulder like, ‘Get up. Get up. We have to finish this,’” Nikki told reporters in Rio. “And I’m like, ‘OK, yep, yep, you’re right. It’s the Olympic Games, we have to finish this.’ I’m so grateful to Abbey for doing that for me. I mean, that girl is the Olympic spirit right there.”
Nikki ran behind Abbey for a few meters before Abbey, in serious pain, waved her on. Abbey’s coach, Mark Coogan, offered Abbey the chance to quit. Her mom, Donna, was sure that wouldn’t happen. “We knew that if she got up, she was capable of finishing. She had her angels with her, and I knew.” Nikki crossed the line nearly two minutes behind winner Almaz Ayana. And waited for Abbey. When she finished, the two collapsed into each other’s arms, thanking each other profusely.
Abbey suffered a torn ACL and meniscus as well as a strained MCL and had surgery a few weeks later but not before she and Nikki received the Fair Play Award from the International Olympic Committee. The IOC called their story “one of humanity and sacrifice, which has already captured the hearts of people across the globe.” Since then, each has put running on hold. Nikki suffered a foot injury in April. She completed her sociology degree and works for Cycling New Zealand but hopes to be running again and compete at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
“When I was growing up, my dad would always say to me, ‘It’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey.’” Nikki told ESPN, adding she and Abbey’s act of sportsmanship “changed the way I look at my running. … I can find positive things about other areas of my life.” Abbey chronicled the ups and downs of her rehab on Twitter and returned to training in March before suffering a hamstring injury. Not that she’s complaining: She got engaged in June and was presented with the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters by her alma mater, Dartmouth.
“Sport is a vehicle to satisfy a purpose that is so much bigger than us,” she said on her visit to Dartmouth, adding that sportsmanship, “is really a by-product of believing in something and having a purpose that is beyond ourselves. That allows us to be free in a competitive arena. That’s something I’m passionate about, and now I have a story that I can tell.” The Musials are honored to give her that chance.