Runners who helped each other after dramatic fall hailed as symbols of Olympic spirit

RIO DE JANEIRO — Abbey D’Agostino never imagined doing the right thing would cause such a stir.

The 5,000-meter runner whose act of friendship captured the Olympic spirit will not return to the track in Rio after tearing ligaments in her knee.

She was involved in a chain-reaction tumble Tuesday on the track at Olympic Stadium with New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin. Instead of scrambling up to keep running, D’Agostino went to Hamblin, helped her up and urged the New Zealander to keep running. Later, Hamblin did the same for D’Agostino as she, also injured, struggled to finish the race. 

D’Agostino and Hamlin described the unusual experience to CBS News’ Alex Pena. 

“She chose to get me up, and bring me back to the moment,” Hamlin told CBS News of the moment the two collided. 

The athletes’ kindness to each other has been a big hit on social media and provided a refreshing reminder of what the Olympics are supposed to be about. 

D’Agostino spent Wednesday doing TV interviews - rare for a little-known, 5,000-meter runner - and telling her story.

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After the two collided in the women’s 5000m in the Rio Olympics on Aug. 16, 2016, American Abbey D’Agostino and New Zealander Nikki Hamblin both helped each other finish.

Kai Pfaffenbach/REUTERS

Her explanation was simple.

“It’s so cool and, I think, affirming to see something like this connect with so many people,” D’Agostino told CBS News. “It’s special to be a part of it and it goes to show what is so much more important than the athletes.”

Before the race, D’Agostino and Hamblin had never crossed paths. Now, they’ve exchanged contact information and vow to stay in touch.

“It’s connected us in a way that’s powerful,” D’Agostino, a 24-year-old from Topsfield, Massachusetts, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday. “We live on opposite sides of world and our paths won’t cross frequently. But we will keep in touch and share our story.”

Hamblin couldn’t agree more.

“That girl is the Olympic spirit right there,” Hamblin told the AP. “I’ve never met her before. Like, I never met this girl before. And isn’t that just so amazing? Such an amazing woman.”

D’Agostino has seen replays of the incident, trying to figure out how she got the worst of the collision. She’s still not sure how it happened.

Even more, she’s not sure how she was able to make it across the finish line with a banged-up right knee.

“A miracle,” she told the AP. “All I know is I prayed my way through the last four and a half laps. My knee was like jelly - as soon as I tried to pick it up, it would start buckling. I’ve never done anything like that.”

After finishing, D’Agostino was carted off the track in a wheelchair. Later, doctors discovered a torn ACL and strained MCL in her knee.

Race officials advanced both runners into Friday’s final, but D’Agostino can’t go. She will meet with a doctor in Boston after the Olympics before deciding when to have surgery.

No regrets, she said.

“I’m so thankful to be a part of this,” D’Agostino told the AP. “It’s about the privilege of representing us and being more than just my race performance.”