American runner Abbey D'Agostino didn't realize how badly she was hurt when she stopped to make sure that fellow runner Nikki Hamblin (New Zealand) would be able to get up and keep running after a fall on the track.
But when D'Agostino went down in pain just a few seconds after helping her competitor, Hamblin stopped and returned the favor.
Both were granted spots in the final, but due to injuries sustained in their crash, D'Agostino was pulled from the race entirely and Hamblin finished last. Despite the fact that they would leave Rio without fulfilling their Olympic dreams, both remained surprisingly positive:
D'Agostino: “This whole time here [God] has made clear to me that my experience in Rio was going to be about more than my race performance — and as soon as Nikki got up I knew that was it.”
Hamblin: "You can make friends in the moments that really should break your heart.”
But on Saturday, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that the exemplary sportsmanship both women had displayed would not go unrecognized: D'Agostino and Hamblin became the 18th and 19th recipients of the Pierre de Coubertin medal.
Named for the father of the modern Olympic Games, the de Coubertin medal is not awarded at every Olympics. Rather, it is reserved for the most exceptional displays of sportsmanship, fair play, and Olympic spirit.
Hamblin and D'Agostino join the ranks of men like Luz Long, the German who befriended black American track and field star Jesse Owens in 1936. Owens had failed two attempts at the long jump when Long (his opponent) showed him where to place his feet.
Owens went on to defeat Long for the gold, but he said the medal was not what mattered:
"It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler. You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating on the twenty-four karat friendship that I felt for Luz Long at that moment”.
Italian bobsledder Eugenio Monti received the medal in 1964 when he gave a bolt from his own sled to the British team, who had lost a bolt. The British team, led by Tony Nash, went on to win gold. When the press asked Monti if he regretted helping his opponents, he explained:
“Nash didn’t win the gold medal because I gave him a bolt. He won because he was the fastest.”
The IOC felt that Hamblin and D'Agostino should be honored as well, a tribute that Hamblin called humbling: “I am so grateful to Abbey for picking me up, and I think many people would have returned the favor. I’m never going to forget that arm on my shoulder.”