American runner receives special Olympic medal for sportsmanship

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RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 17: New Zealand distance runner, Nikki Hamblin and American runner, Abbey D'Agostino pose for a portrait on August 17, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Hamblin and D'Agostino came last in their 5000m heat on Tuesday after they collided and fell midway through their race. The pair have been commended for their sportsmanship after they helped each other up to finish the race. (Getty)
New Zealand distance runner Nikki Hamblin and American runner Abbey D’Agostino came last in their 5,000-meter heat Tuesday after they collided and fell midway through their race. (Getty)

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They may not have won any medals on the track in Rio, but on Saturday, American middle-distance runner Abbey D’Agostino and her former opponent Nikki Hamblin were both awarded special Olympic medals for sportsmanship.

The two women collided in a heat of the women’s 5,000-meter on Tuesday. With five laps remaining in the race, Hamblin clipped the heel of the runner in front of her and tripped, causing D’Agostino to fall over her. Despite injuring her knee in the fall, D’Agostino managed to help Hamblin to her feet and made sure she was all right before both continued the race.

Although she didn’t know it at the time, D’Agostino had suffered a torn ACL, sprained MCL and torn meniscus in the fall. Limping heavily as she continued on in the race, she eventually fell to the track again. This time it was Hamblin who stopped to make sure her opponent was okay.

“I was on the ground for too long to get back up and catch on to the pack,” Hamblin said in a statement. “So then it becomes about finishing the race, and finishing the race well. I am so grateful to Abbey for picking me up, and I think many people would have returned the favor.”

The two women both went on to finish the race. Dead last, but they finished. Both women also protested the result, successfully, and won places in the 5,000-meter final. But after learning the extent of her injuries, D’Agostino was forced to drop out. Hamblin finished in last place.

But on Saturday both received the Pierre de Coubertin medal for athletes, former athletes, sports promoters, sporting officials or others who exemplify Olympic sportsmanship.

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The medal was inaugurated in 1964 and has only been given out 17 times previously, including three posthumous awards. Vanderlei de Lima, who lit the cauldron to open the Rio games, was awarded the medal in 2004 for the sportsmanship he showed after getting attacked during the marathon at the Athens Games.

The International Olympic Committee called the story of the two runners “one of humanity and sacrifice, which has already captured the hearts of people across the globe.”

“I think it’s very special for both Abbey and myself,” Hamblin said after the ceremony, which was held at the Olympic Club in Rio’s Olympic Park. “I don’t think either of us woke up and thought that that was going to be our day, or our race, or our Olympic Games. Both of us are strong competitors and we wanted to go out there and do our best on the track.”

According to the Olympic Museum, the medal, also known as the De Coubertin medal or the True Spirit of Sportsmanship medal, is “one of the noblest honors that can be bestowed upon an Olympic athlete.”