Most athletes dream of one day making it to the Olympics. The handful of talented men and women who do eventually get a chance to compete in the big Games, dream of taking home a gold, silver, or bronze medal. For many professional athletes, winning a medal is one of, if not the biggest accomplishment in their career, which is why many dedicate their lives towards training for that special moment.
However, believe it or not, the world’s most competitive sports competition isn’t just about winning or losing. While at times it can certainly seem like that, there is a lot more to sports than winning. On August 16, 2016, the world was reminded of that very fact, when two extraordinary female track athletes competing in the Rio Summer Olympics gave up their chances at winning an Olympic medal, in order to help each other make it to the finish line after a horrible and painful on-track collision.
After Abbey D’Agostino from the U.S. team and Nikki Hamblin from the New Zealand team collided and fell to the track during the women’s 5,000-meter semifinal at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, the crowd went silent. Abbey got up right away, but instead of catching up with the rest of the runners, she immediately went to Nikki, and helped her get back on her feet. Abbey was so busy worrying about Nikki that she didn’t realize that she had suffered a horrible injury, and fell to the ground seconds later in extreme pain. At that moment, Nikki lifted Abbey off the ground and stayed by her side until they both finished the raced together.
The entire crowd in the Olympian stadium rose to their feet and cheered as the two athletes emotionally embraced one another. The incredible moment of sportsmanship between the two runners made a huge impact throughout the world, and became known as the “Most Beautiful Moment of Rio 2016.” Although neither Abbey or Nikki won a medal, they were both considered the real winners of the Games for embodying the true spirit of the Olympics.
It has been a year and a half since Abbey and Nikki shook the world with their good-hearted act of sportsmanship. The Olympians are now focusing on their lives post-Olympics, including recovery, training, new careers, a wedding proposal…and more.
Continue reading to catch up with the extraordinary girls from one of the Olympics’ most touching moments of all time.
An emotional event
In a world filled with plenty of hate, it is important to be reminded of the many good people out there. On August 16, 2016, a fall at the Rio Olympics women’s 5,000-meter semifinal brought the entire crowd to their feet. The emotional event has gone down in history as one of the most beautiful Olympic moments of all time and has set the perfect example of how even in the world’s most competitive sports competition, it isn’t always about winning.
The track race started off like any typical race, with all 17 women ready for the moment they have been training their whole career for. However, moments later, two athletes, Abbey D’Agostino from the U.S. team and Nikki Hamblin from the New Zealand team collided together, both falling to the floor. After Abbey quickly got back on her feet, she helped Nikki get back up, and encouraged her to finish the race saying, “Get up. Get up. We have to finish this.”
A helping hand
However, only moments after helping Nikki get up off the track, Abbey, who didn’t realize how much pain she was in, suddenly collapsed to the ground in excruciating pain. The crowd went silent. It was then, that Nikki lent Abbey a helping hand. Instead of continuing the race and catching up with the rest of the pack, she decided to stay behind with her ‘rival’ and help her stand back up, in a moment of true sportsmanship.
The finish line
By the end of the race, both runners made it to the finish line. Nikki in 15th place at 16:43.61 and a hobbling Abbey right there behind her in 16th at 17:10.02. Both runners finished way behind the heat’s winner from Ethipoia, Almaz Ayana, who finished at 15:04.35. The entire Olympic stadium rose to their feet and didn’t stop cheering, but it wasn’t the winner who they were applauding, it was the amazing sportsmanship between the two athletes that they had just witnessed.
Immediately following the race, Abbey and Nikki emotionally embraced, and Abbey left the track in a wheelchair. Abbey had suffered serious injuries, tearing both her ACL and her meniscus. The fact that she was even able to finish the race in the first place is a true miracle. Although she was in an incredible amount of pain, Abbey struggled through the pain until the very end, determined to finish the Olympic race.
A special award
In a turn of events, both Abbey and Nikki were given places in the final after the New Zealand and US team officials held successful protests. Unfortunately, Abbey was too injured to compete and Nikki, who was hampered by a sore ankle, finished last. Although neither Abbey or Nikki got to take home a gold, silver or bronze medal like they had initially hoped for, they instead were awarded something far more rare and special, an award that has only been awarded to a small group of athletes, the Fair Play Award.
A great honor
The Fair Play Award is meant to “recognize true Olympic champions in sportsmanship,” which the International Fair Play Committee and the International Olympic Committee believed to be exactly what Abbey and Nikki are. The two athletes felt honored to achieve such an important award. Nikki explained how she felt, “I think it’s very special for both Abbey and myself. I don’t think either of us woke up and thought that was going to be our day, or our race, or our Olympic Games.”
Nikki explained how grateful she is for Abbey’s encouragement, and that she was only “returning the favor” by helping Abbey moments later. She explained, “I was on the ground for too long to get back up and catch on to the pack. So then it becomes about finishing the race, and finishing the race well.” She continued, “I am so grateful to Abbey for picking me up, and I think many people would have returned the favor.”
An amazing woman
Looking back, Nikki explained the frightening fall, and how she would never have finished without Abbey’s help. She explained, “I went down, and I was like, ‘What’s happening? Why am I on the ground?'” She continued, “Then suddenly this hand on my shoulder…and I was like, ‘Yup, yup, you’re right. This is the Olympic Games. We have to finish this.'” She added, “I’ve never met this girl before, and isn’t that just so amazing, such an amazing woman.”
A mutual act
Both Abbey and Nikki knew that the race was about far more than winning a medal. Nikki explained, “Regardless of the race and the result on the board, that’s a moment that you’re never ever going to forget for the rest of your life, that girl shaking my shoulder, like ‘Come on, get up.'” Abbey claims that she could never have finished without Nikki’s help as well, saying, “It was very much a mutual act.”
Making an impact
During a Summer Olympics that was filled with concerns including cost overruns, crime, unsafe water, and virus panic, Abbey and Nikki offered some refreshing positivity and acted as the perfect examples of what the Olympics should be about. At first, Abbey didn’t understand the remarkable impact that she had made. She said, “While it’s still surreal in a lot of ways, the more I process and understand it, the more I’m so grateful to realize the impact that it had.”
And quite an impact the two athletes made…As soon as word spread throughout the world of Abbey and Nikki’s beautiful Olympic moment, the press went wild. Their story was covered by the biggest news outlets across the world including ABC News, Fox News, NBC News, and ESPN. The two young and inspiring athletes were praised for their acts of kindness during a competitive sport and were known around the world as the “unlikely heroes of 2016” and the “real winners in Rio.”
Reunited at last
A few months after the infamous race, Abbey and Nikki were reunited in Monaco at the Laureus World Sports Awards, where they were nominated together for the Best Sporting Moment. Up until that reunion, they hadn’t seen each other but had stayed in touch via texts and emails. Abbey explained the special connection that she and Nikki will always share, “We forever will have sort of an unspoken understanding and connection because of the depth of what we experienced.” She continued, “Not only in that moment, but also in the wake of it.”
Nikki – after Rio
After Rio, Nikki decided to take a three-month break. After the three months were over, she continued on with her training. Unfortunately, Nikki suffered a foot injury in April 2017, which crushed her hopes of competing in the London World Championships which took place in early August 2017. Abbey told ESPN, “That’s kind of ruled me out of racing for this year, but you know, I guess what Rio taught me is there’s always a positive in everything, you just have to find it.”
After her injury, Nikki decided to take her first “grown-up job” as she calls it, working in membership for an organization called Cycling New Zealand, which acts as an “umbrella body embracing all national bike and cycling organizations.” She has left the track for an office in Cambridge, New Zealand, and is currently working on completing her degree in sociology. Although she can’t run due to her injury, she is able to cycle and frequently participates in her company’s cycling races.
Not giving up
However, Nikki isn’t planning on giving up entirely on her track career just yet, and is planning on starting training again as soon as she heals. her goal is to make it to the next Summer Olympics, which will take place in Tokyo in the year 2020. Although Nikki would like to take home an Olympic medal this time, she now understands that she has already made quite an impact at the Games. She said, “The further time comes between the incident, I understand, ‘You actually did a good thing.'”
Abbey – after Rio
As for Abbey, the 25-year-old may have had a tough year and a half, but isn’t planning on giving up as well. After Rio, Abbey had to undergo surgery in order to repair her torn ACL and meniscus in her right knee. After recovering, she began training again in March and April 2017. Unfortunately, not long after she returned to the track, she strained her right hamstring, stalling her again. However, she is still determined to get back to track competitions.
Lucky for Abbey, she was given approval from her doctor to run again, as soon as she feels that she is able to do so. She explained how grateful she feels, “The fact that I was given approval to race as soon as I am ready is a blessing. The only thing holding me back now is fitness. I am so grateful. I will just continue to take it one step at a time.”
Slowly but surely
In the meantime, Abbey has been taking her time, working her way back to the track slowly but surely. She has been focusing on entering a few cross-country and road races, and hopes to return to the track in 2018. She said, “It’s been more of two steps forward, one back, which I’m learning is what I should expect in the 18 months after surgery.” However, even though she hasn’t been able to do what she loves most, competing in track competitions, she has been having a pretty solid year and a half.
Praise by the President
In January 2017, Abbey was invited to the White House for an event honoring the U.S. Olympic teams. The President became a huge fan of Abbey after Rio, and hailed her for her great sportsmanship. He said that he was in “awe” of Abbey, calling her act at the Olympics a “remarkable sentiment in the middle of an individual race” and “what the Olympic spirit and American spirit should be all about.” Abbey said hearing the President compliment her was a “shock and an honor.”
In June 2017, Abbey took to Instagram to share the happy news… that she got engaged to her boyfriend, Jacob Cooper. Abbey posted a photo of her boyfriend down on one knee with a ring in his hand, in front of the Church of Our Saviour in Brookline, Massachusetts. Abbey wrote, “The most sure “yes” that has ever erupted from my heart.” The happy and adorable couple are now planning a wedding for the summer of 2018.
Also in June 2017, Abbey was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters by her alma mater, the Ivy League Dartmouth College, for setting the “gold standard in sportsmanship.” The 2014 graduate was presented the award during Dartmouth’s 2017 commencement ceremony, where she was praised for her “outstanding athletic achievements and devotion” to her sport and for “teaching us that every fall presents an opportunity to rise again and lift one another up.”
Boston sports fan
As a Massachusetts native, Abbey has always been a dedicated fan of her favorite Boston teams including the Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics, and New England Patriots. Over the last year, Abbey has had a chance to attend several games, and even hang out with some of the players, like the legendary retired Red Sox player David Ortiz. Abbey was even given the honor to throw the first pitch at Fenway Park during a Red Sox game.
Sharing her story
Since Rio, Abbey has been enjoying sharing her story with others, and often gives motivational speeches to the public about having faith in yourself and in God and believing miracles. She has hosted several inspirational pre-event lectures in the Athletes Village with former Olympic gold medalist and Team USA chaplain, Madeline Manning Mims. Madeline, like Abbey, also once finished a race despite suffering a serious injury. Both Abbey and Madeline claim that it was faith that led them to finish the race.
Mentoring young athletes
As a member of Team New Balance, Abbey is frequently dedicating her time to mentoring young aspiring student-athletes via New Balance Gives Back, an organization which aims at “improving the health and well-being of children and families worldwide.” Abbey often stops by New Balance stores in Boston, where she holds conferences for aspiring student-athletes. One of her key takeaways for her students? “Sport doesn’t build character. Sport reflects character.” She also volunteers regularly at local Massachusetts schools, where she mentors young athletes and donates new pairs of New Balance sneakers.
Abbey has always been dedicated to her Christian religion, and took part in a Bible study group about the power of miracles ten days before the big race in Rio. Looking back, she now believes that everything happens for a reason and that God was preparing her for that moment. She explained, “Because of so many things that were working in my life to prepare my heart to respond that way, I was able to show off the character of love and sacrifice that is natural only to God.”
While the young Olympian would have loved to bring home a medal during the 2016 Summer Games, she says that she has no regrets whatsoever, and believes that there will be more chances in the future. For now, she is just grateful for the life-changing experience, one that she will never forget for as long as she lives. “Just to have that opportunity, to be on that stage, was incredible,” she said. “So I don’t regret anything that happened.”
Besides being known for her incredible sportsmanship at the 2016 Rio Summer Games, Abbey has quite the impressive athletic background behind her. Before she made it to the Olympics, she was already a seven-time NCAA champion. She is the first-ever female runner from Dartmouth to ever win an NCAA title. Not only that, she is still considered today as the most decorated Ivy League athlete in track and field and cross country running.
Grateful for the injury
Today, Abbey doesn’t regret her injury, but is actually grateful for it. She says that her experience in Rio has only made her more eager to inspire and motivate others. She said, “This injury was part of a moment that was so much greater than me. It has provided this platform for me to motivate, inspire, teach, and share. I think that has been the strongest aid psychologically and spiritually in allowing me to not just endure, but thrive.”
More to life
Similar to Nikki, Abbey will always hold a place in her heart for running, but is now realizing that while it has been an important part of her life, it is not her entire life. Abbey explained, “It’s just a vehicle for me to put on display the athletic and the mental and all the gifts and resources I’ve been given to be able to do this sport.” She continued, “It’s a better more mature life balance, I think. I’m developing a more sustainable relationship with the sport.”