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RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 16: Abbey D'Agostino of the United States (R) is assisted by Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand after a collision during the Women's 5000m Round 1 - Heat 2 on Day 11 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 16, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Ian Walton/Getty Images
The spirit of the games.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING

“We have to finish this”: Images of fallen runners helping each other perfectly capture the Olympic spirit

By Marc Bain

The Olympics are about competition. Athletes work for years for the chance to sort themselves into a hierarchy of winners and losers on the world’s biggest stage. It’s why billions around the planet watch, but it’s not all that characterizes the games.

Yesterday (Aug. 16), during the women’s 5,000-meter race, runners Abbey D’Agostino of the US and Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand collided about 3,200 meters into the race. What followed illustrated the sort of sportsmanship that represents the real spirit of the Olympic games.

The collision happened after Hamblin stumbled while trying to avoid hitting a runner in front of her. D’Agostino crashed into Hamblin from behind, and both fell to the track. D’Agostino rose first, but rather than continue on, she stopped to help Hamblin, who was clearly in distress.

As both tried to continue the race, D’Agostino’s knee buckled twice. She collapsed back to the track. This time it was Hamblin who assisted her. She stayed with D’Agostino for some time before leaving her to complete the race. D’Agostino, too, eventually finished the race, limping.

2016 Rio Olympics - Athletics - Preliminary - Women's 5000m Round 1 - Olympic Stadium - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 16/08/2016. Nikki Hamblin (NZL) of New Zealand stops to help Abbey D'Agostino (USA) of USA. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. - RTX2L8F9
Reuters/Dylan Martinez
2016 Rio Olympics - Athletics - Preliminary - Women's 5000m Round 1 - Olympic Stadium - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 16/08/2016. Nikki Hamblin (NZL) of New Zealand stops running during the race to help fellow competitor Abbey D'Agostino (USA) of USA after D'Agostino suffered a cramp. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. - RTX2L6XP
Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach
D’Agostino struggles with her knee injury.
2016 Rio Olympics - Athletics - Preliminary - Women's 5000m Round 1 - Olympic Stadium - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 16/08/2016. Nikki Hamblin (NZL) of New Zealand gestures to Abbey D'Agostino (USA) of USA after helping her when she injured ankle and fell. REUTERS/David Gray FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. - RTX2L77P
Reuters/David Gray
2016 Rio Olympics - Athletics - Preliminary - Women's 5000m Round 1 - Olympic Stadium - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 16/08/2016. Nikki Hamblin (NZL) of New Zealand and Abbey D'Agostino (USA) of USA embrace. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. - RTX2L706
Reuters/Lucy Nicholson
2016 Rio Olympics - Athletics - Preliminary - Women's 5000m Round 1 - Olympic Stadium - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 16/08/2016. Abbey D'Agostino (USA) of USA is helped by Nikki Hamblin (NZL) of New Zealand after finishing the race. Hamblin helped the injured D'Agostino get back up on the track during the race. REUTERS/David Gray FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. - RTX2L74R
Reuters/David Gray

Speaking to press after the race, Hamblin said D’Agostino exemplifies the Olympic spirit and explained how D’Agostino encouraged her after their initial tumble. “I went down, and I was like, ‘What’s happening? Why am I on the ground?'” she said. “Then suddenly, there’s this hand on my shoulder [and D’Agostino saying], ‘Get up, get up, we have to finish this.’ And I’m like, ‘Yup, yup, you’re right. This is the Olympic Games. We have to finish this.'”

The episode embodies the sentiment enshrined in the modern Olympics by Pierre de Coubertin, the man credited with resurrecting the games in 1896 (pdf). He believed in the games as a way to ennoble sport, which he saw as a means of education. “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part,” he famously said, “the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.”

Deservedly, both runners will reportedly go on to compete in the final, despite the trip.