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‘That girl is the Olympic spirit’: After colliding, runners help each other cross finish line

Team USA’s Abbey D’Agostino, right, hugs Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand after the women’s 5,000-meter qualifier Tuesday. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

For track and field athletes, the Olympics offers the biggest prize of their careers. A gold medal is a tangible symbol of years of hard work and dedication. But on Tuesday, long-distance runners Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand and Abbey D’Agostino of the United States proved hardware doesn’t always trump heart.

After the two collided on the track during the 5,000-meter race, resulting in a bad leg injury for D’Agostino, the two urged each other on and both eventually were able to finish the race, albeit seemingly sacrificing their chances at a finals berth along the way.

“Everyone wants to win and everyone wants a medal. But as disappointing as this experience is for myself and for Abbey, there’s so much more to this than a medal,” Hamblin told reporters after the race. The two finished well behind heat leader Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia. D’Agostino even had to be helped off with a wheelchair.

The incident occurred with still more than a mile to go in the roughly 3.1-mile race when Hamblin tripped on the track and fell to the ground. Running on Hamblin’s heels, D’Agostino could do little to stop herself from falling over Hamblin and twisted her leg in the process.

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“When I went down, I was like, ‘What’s hit me? Why am I on the ground?’ ” Hamblin said. “And then suddenly there’s this hand on my shoulder, like, ‘Get up, get up. We have to finish this.’ ”

That hand belonged to D’Agostino, who helped Hamblin up, and the two continued to run.

“I was like, ‘Yep, you’re right. It’s the Olympic Games. We have to finish this,’ ” Hamblin said, adding that she was “grateful” to D’Agostino for her gesture. “That girl is the Olympic spirit right there.”

But the injured D’Agostino wouldn’t make it far before collapsing again. This time Hamblin was there to lend a hand.

“[D’Agostino] ran 4 1/2 laps barely being able to run. I’m so impressed and inspired that she did that,” Hamblin said. “She was saying I can’t put weight on my knee.”

Hamblin called the whole incident “amazing” and said “it’s a moment that you’ll never, ever forget for the rest of your life.”

D’Agostino, whose condition remains unknown, has not commented publicly since she was wheeled off the track to visit the medics, however, assuming she can recover by Friday, her Olympic dreams are still alive.

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And so are Hamblin’s after both runners filed protests and were granted exemptions to run in Friday’s final.

“I really hope she’s okay,” Hamblin said. “Being such a good human being, she’s gonna go far. … If I can even give her back 1 percent of what she gave me when she helped me get back up off the track, that would be amazing.”

Rick Maese contributed to this report from Rio.