Before the sporting gesture seen 'round the world, Dartmouth alum Abbey D'Agostino had a feeling she’d be part of something meaningful in Rio during the 2016 Olympics.
Not winning a medal, necessarily — D’Agostino, 24, was too young and green to be considered a serious contender in the 5000-meter race at these Games despite her seven NCAA championships at Dartmouth.
Yet D’Agostino, a person of faith, said she sensed she was destined for something. She just didn’t know what.
“I just really felt like God was, like, ‘Well, I have something’ … The minute it happened, I said, ‘Well, that was it.’ After I had gotten up and started running again, I was like, that was the race and now I have to finish it.”
D’Agostino spoke by phone Monday from her parents’ home in Massachusetts, two days after getting home from Rio and less than a week after her collision with fellow runner Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand continues to reverberate on lists of the Rio Games’ best moments.
D’Agostino helping Hamblin up — with Hamblin later returning the favor — was seen as the embodiment of the Olympic spirit. It gained international attention, providing a troubled Games with an unforgettable image of empathy, grit and grace.
At about the race’s 3200-meter mark, Hamblin was clipped and fell. D’Agostino stumbled over Hamblin, her right knee for an instant angling gruesomely sideways. D’Agostino scrambled to her feet first.
Placing a hand on her shoulder, she urged a dazed Hamblin to get up, that they both had to finish. Hamblin shook away the fog. Yes, yes, of course we have to finish, she thought. It’s the Olympics.
Both got up. D’Agostino’s knee buckled, sending her to the track again. Hamblin helped her up. Then her knee seemed to stabilize.
D’Agostino’s coach, Mark Coogan, was on the opposite side of the track when he saw her fall. He slumped to his seat. When she passed his section, he yelled to her that it was OK to stop. But a grimacing D’Agostino kept running — for five laps.
Only later would she find out she had tore her anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus and sprained her medial collateral ligament.
How on earth did she make it more than a mile on a blown knee?
“I literally was praying my way through the finish line,” she said. “I knew my knee felt like Jell-O and it wasn’t right. But I also knew that part of it was having to finish.”
Hamblin was waiting. Strangers when the race began, they hugged when it ended, Hamblin holding D’Agostino up and calling for medical help.
“That girl is the Olympic spirit right there,” Hamblin said to reporters in Rio immediately after the race. “I’ve never met her before. Like I never met this girl before. And isn’t that just so amazing? Such an amazing woman.”
Officials ruled they both were impeded and were advanced to the final. D’Agostino watched Hamblin and a U.S. teammate in the 5000-meter final. Hamblin, her ankle still hurting from the crash, got lapped and finished last.
D’Agostino’s life has been a whirlwind since their race. In the week since the collision, she and Hamblin were presented with the International Fair Play Committee Award for sportsmanship. D’Agostino appeared on The Today Show. She was considered for the U.S. flagbearer for Sunday night’s closing ceremony, an honor that went to gymnast extraordinaire Simone Biles.
D’Agostino said the possibility was “super humbling” and figured even on crutches, they could have made it work. But, with the help of the USA Track and Field, she had already made travel plans home — upgraded to business class so she could elevate her leg. It wasn’t meant to be, she said.
For now, D’Agostino is lining up doctors’ appointments to prepare for surgery, which will probably happen in the next two weeks. She faces a six-month recovery from her career’s first surgery.
D’Agostino doesn’t have an Olympic medal, but she has always had a silver lining. She said the time off might be a blessing.
“This is an opportunity for me to really process what’s happened, kind of let my body completely reset,” she said. “And it’s good for other areas in my life: relationships, maybe speaking engagements and ways of keeping this platform beyond the track.”
None of what D’Agostino did on the track in Rio is surprising to Coogan, her former college coach for all four years at Dartmouth and currently. He said D’Agostino is “a joy to coach,” and the kind of person who routinely lifts others.
If someone was struggling, she would offer advice or a car ride. She was so helpful and encouraging, said Coogan, that teammates would joke about it. “What would Abbey do?” they’d ask.
“She always had a smile on her face,” Coogan said. “I’ve never seen her in a bad mood in practice.”
She and Coogan have already talked about her return to running, targeting the U.S. nationals in June 2017. Tokyo in 2020? Absolutely, says D'Agostino.
Coogan said D’Agostino has a bright future. She was fifth at the 2015 indoor world championships at 3000 meters.
“This is a major setback, but not the end of the world,” he said.
D’Agostino knows this. She is also grateful for the four or five hours she and Hamblin spent together doing interviews in the aftermath of their crash. They got to know one another a bit.
Relationships at the Olympics can be intense, but are usually fleeting. Yet this bond might be a lasting one. They exchanged email addresses. Of course they will keep in touch, said D’Agostino.
After the final, Hamblin was still marveling to reporters at how a fall can actually be uplifting.
“You can make friends,” she said, “in the moments that really should break your heart.”
New U.S. sprint star Tori Bowie wins three Olympic medals
Southern Mississippi alum Tori Bowie entered Rio as a barely-known quantity on the international level.
She’s leaving it a star. Bowie, 25, from Sand Hill, Miss., won an Olympic medal of each color after adding 4x100-meter relay gold to her 100-meter silver and 200-meter bronze medals in the 2016 Games.
Bowie anchored the relay that posted a time of 41.01 seconds, defeating rival Jamaica by .35 and turning in the second-fastest time in history — that being the U.S. team’s 40.82 clocked in the 2012 Games. Bowie missed qualifying for those Games because of a broken jaw.
Great Britain was third in 41.77.
Bowie and her 2016 teammates — Tianna Bartoletta, Allyson Felix and English Gardner — nearly didn’t make the Rio final after Felix was impeded by a member of the Brazilian team during a flawed baton exchange. After an appeal, the U.S. was permitted a rerun, running a relay by itself, and qualified for the final.
In the final, Bowie was handed a comfortable lead along with the baton and kept Jamaica’s anchor, two-time Olympic 100-meter champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, at bay.
“I feel like I had the easiest job of all,” Bowie said to Lewis Johnson on NBC. “You know, my teammates brought me the stick, and all I had to do was bring it to the finish line.”
Earlier in the week, Bowie won 200-meter bronze in 22.15 behind Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson (21.78) and Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands (21.88). Her plans for the next Games? A possible return to her first passion, long jump. Bowie was a runner-up in the 2014 national indoors and has jumped a personal-best 6.95 meters (22 feet, 9 ½ inches).
She told nbcolympics.com’s Nick Zaccardi that her success in Rio might convince her coach to let her jump again.
“He kind of told me that if I come in and I get the right medals, then he will allow me to do the long jump next year,” Bowie said. “I think that’s a discussion that we’ll have later, after tonight. I’m hoping he’ll give in.”
East Carolina’s LaShawn Merritt wins relay gold
LaShawn Merritt anchored the U.S. 4x400-meter relay team to a gold medal, adding to his bronze in the individual 400-meter run earlier in the Games. He was sixth in the 200-meter dash.
Merritt, who also attended Old Dominion after turning pro, joined forces with teammates Arman Hall, Tony McQuay and Gil Roberts to post a time of 2:57.30, ahead of rival Jamaica (2:58.16) and the Bahamas (2:58.49).
Merritt, injured for the 2012 Olympics, when the U.S. was overtaken by the Bahamas for gold, pulled away after Roberts stumbled at the end of the third leg.
"I ran with a great group of guys, they made my job easy," Merritt told USA Today. "Everyone goes out and does their job. I thought, I have been running a lot but I'm going to give this anchor leg all I got. Every man did their job and we are bringing this gold back to the U.S."
Princeton’s Ashleigh Johnson part of water polo history
Ashleigh Johnson from made nine of 13 saves, including one on a penalty shot at a key moment, to help the U.S. women’s water polo team beat Italy, 12-5, to win Olympic gold for the second time — the first back-to-back Olympic water polo titles in women’s Olympic history.
Before this, no women’s team had even won multiple medals since the sport made its Olympic debut in 2000.
Miami’s Johnson, a former competitive swimmer and the first black woman to play on the U.S. water polo team, is the only non-Californian on the team.
Some are calling the team the best ever in the sport. It outscored their opponents in Rio, 73-27, and went 6-0 en route to a 22-match win streak that dates to last season. The team has won every major international tournament since the start of 2014.
“It’s incredible. It’s so amazing to be able to share this with my family, my friends and my coach,” said Johnson (below, second row, second from right) to TeamUSA.org. “I didn’t have any expectations. This feels like I thought it would, I guess.”
UConn’s alums golden in women’s hoops
Husky alums anchored the U.S. women’s basketball team’s sixth-straight gold as it beat Spain, 101-72, in the Olympic final.
Guard Sue Bird battled a knee injury that saw her sit out the semifinal win but return for the final.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma collected his second Olympic gold. The win marks four golds for Sue Bird, hampered by a knee injury; Diana Taurasi and Tamika Catchings, who said she will retire.
Taurasi had 17 points, Maya Moore had 14 points and Olympic rookie Breanna Stewart had 11 points in the final game as the U.S. went 8-0 at the Games. Taurasi scored an Olympic record 33 3-pointers in the tournament.
Stewart, who has won four-straight NCAA titles in addition to Olympic gold, hit two free throws and Taurasi two straight 3-pointers to break the game open in the second quarter.
Yale’s Grace eighth in 800-meter final
Kate Grace, the surprise Olympic qualifier from the U.S. Olympic trials, posted a time of 1:59.57 to finish eighth behind heavy favorite Caster Semenya of South Africa (1:55.29), Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi (1:56.49) and Margaret Wambui of Kenya (1:56.89).
“These women are strong,” Grace told reporters. “They’re world-class people. They’re amazing women and I was happy to be there.”
Temple’s Ajee Wilson faltered in the 800-meter semifinal, finishing third in 1:59.75 — more than a second slower than her career best — and failed to advance to the final in a heat that featured medalists Niyonsaba and Wambui. Wilson got outsprinted in the final stretch.
“I didn’t stick with them (her section leaders) the way I should have,” Wilson told USA Today. “I let them get away. I was not in good position and unable to close in the last 100 or so. I also got spiked at some point, but I wasn’t exactly dead tired at the end, either.
“Definitely disappointing,” she called it. “Especially since my training has been going so well, I definitely thought I was in better shape than I kind of showed out there tonight. It’s always hard playing the coulda-shoulda-woulda game. But it is what it is."
Chelimo wins 5,000-meter silver in bizarre race
UNC Greensboro alum Paul Chelimo crossed the finish line second to Great Britain’s Mo Farah and ahead of Hagos Gebrhiwhet of Ethiopia in the men’s 5000-meter race.
That was the easy part.
Chelimo had celebrated before being told on live TV that he was disqualified when a number of racers were ruled to have stepped inside the track’s innermost lane. More than an hour later, following an appeal by USA Track and Field, the ruling was changed, returning both Chelimo and Gebrhiwhet to their original places.
"I don't really know what happened but I am happy to be back in it and I'm happy to call myself the 5000-meter Olympic silver medalist," Chelimo said to USA Today.
- A pair of Texas State pole vaulters competed in Rio: Logan Cunningham finished 28th in the men’s pole vault, vaulting 5.30 meters. Anicka Newell, competing for Canada, finished 29th after vaulting 4.15 meters.
- Reyare Thomas of Abilene Christian University, competing for Trinidad & Tobago, helped the team to fifth in the women’s 4x100-meter relay, won by the U.S. Thomas also ran a 22.97 but did not advance past the first round in women’s 200-meter sprint. Thomas had been part of the 4x100m relay team from Trinidad and Tobago that won a bronze medal at the 2015 outdoor world championships in Beijing.
- Cornell’s Rudy Winkler was 18th in the hammer throw, posting a throw of 71.89 meters hammer throw.
- UTEP’s Tobi Amusan, competing for Nigeria in the 100-meter hurdler, reached the semifinals, posting a time of 12.91 seconds.
- Middle Tennesse State’s John Ampomah was 19th competing for Ghana in the javelin. He posted a throw of 80.39 meters.
- Men's 1500-meter champion Matthew Centrowitz is the son of American University track coach Matt Centrowitz, a 1976 1500mOlympian and 1979 Pan Am Games gold medalist.
Above: The enduring images of the 2016 Olympics: Seven-time NCAA champion Abbey D'Agostino collided with New Zealand's Nikki Hamblin a competitor, they helped each other up and finished the raceandhelp each other over the line. (Courtesy NCAA via Twitter)
Torie Bowie photo courtesy Southern Miss Athletics
Ashleigh Johnson photo courtesy Princeton Athletics
Paul Chelimo photo courtesy Eddie Wooten via Twitter