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Bostonians of the Year

Abbey D’Agostino: The athlete who showed true Olympic spirit

After a heartbreaking collision on the track, the Topsfield runner reminded us some things are more important than winning.

Boston, MA - 11/18/2016 - Olympic runner Abbey D'Agostino poses for a portrait in the offices of her sponsor New Balance in Boston, MA on November 18, 2016. D'Agostino tore her ACL after colliding with fellow runner Nikki Hamblin during the women's 5000 meter race at the Rio Olympics. (Keith Bedford/Globe Staff) Topic: Reporter:

Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

Abbey D’Agostino, who was raised in Topsfield, embodied Olympic spirit while running the 5,000-meter semifinal in Rio last summer.

It was the fall seen round the world. But Olympian Abbey D’Agostino doesn’t like watching replays of it. When she trips over downed New Zealander Nikki Hamblin in the 5,000-meter semifinal, D’Agostino’s right knee bends unnaturally, which “just grosses me out,” she says. What happened next, however, earned her and Hamblin the world’s embrace and the International Fair Play award for sportsmanship.

D’Agostino went over to Hamblin and said: “Get up. Get up. We have to finish this.” She helped Hamblin up and they reentered the race. But D’Agostino had torn both her ACL and her meniscus and soon collapsed to the track again. This time, Hamblin did the encouraging. D’Agostino says, “It was very much a mutual act.” It was also much, much more.

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During a Summer Olympics besieged with concerns about cost overruns, street crime, terrorism, transportation, unsafe water, Zika, and Ryan Lochte, D’Agostino offered a welcome antidote. Her simple, impromptu act of kindness embodied the Olympic spirit and resonated worldwide. “While it’s still surreal in a lot of ways,” she says, “the more I process and understand it, the more I’m so grateful to realize the impact that it had.”

After the Topsfield-raised runner returned to Boston, she was honored at Red Sox, Patriots, and Celtics games. D’Agostino threw out a Fenway Park first pitch alongside New England Olympic medalists: rowers Tessa Gobbo (gold), Eleanor Logan (gold), and Gevvie Stone (silver); judoka Kayla Harrison (gold); and diver Michael Hixon (silver). (Gymnast Aly Raisman, who won team gold, all-around silver, and floor-exercise silver, enjoyed first-pitch honors another night.)

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In addition to hanging out with Boston sports teams, D’Agostino was invited to local high schools to speak about her experiences in Rio and her views on sportsmanship.

On September 6, D’Agostino underwent knee surgery to repair her torn ACL. The 24-year-old says her rehab has gone smoothly and more quickly than expected, and she plans to start full-time training in January. While she’s happy to be known internationally as a good sport, she hopes to be back competing next year and eventually to return to the Olympics — ideally to earn accolades for a place on the podium. “I don’t want to settle on [the fall] being my legacy,” says D’Agostino. “I really believe in my heart that I am going to come back to elite running and that I still have a journey within the running world.”  

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