The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio have been jam-packed with emotion and amazing displays of sportsmanship. There have been career-topping highs — like Katie Ledecky's smashing of her own 800-meter world record — to the heart-breaking lows, like when French gymnast Samir Ait Said broke his lower left leg during the vault event, possibly ending his gymnastics career.
But more than ever before, those moments have been topped off with such touching displays of sportsmanship that you can't help but wonder if the cut-throat notion of competition is being redefined by a generation that cares more about the sport than about bringing home a medal.
Take, for example, the shining example of team spirit displayed by the women's gymnastics team. After Team USA won the gold in the team finals, the gymnasts entered the solo portion of the event, where each woman would compete individually.
As role models, these athletes are expected to be good sports — to congratulate each other after performances and possibly even offer the occasional high-five. But these women have gone above and beyond that, proving to the world that they are friends and teammates first, and competitors second. At no time has one of these athletes been competing when the other members of Team USA were not cheering wildly from the sidelines.
And the women certainly don't have a monopoly on good sportsmanship. That same sense of camaraderie was there in men's archery, when teammates Zach Garrett and Brady Ellison could be seen high-fiving each other during the individual competition and eventually hugging when Ellison beat Garrett and eliminated him from the competition.
And it could be seen after the Men's 5000 Meter track final when American teammates Bernard Lagat and Paul Chelimo embraced with such genuine happiness for one another that it was unclear which one of them had just one the gold and which had brought home a bronze. (Lagat and Chelimo are pictured at top.)
'Isn't that just so amazing?'
In 1959, legendary football coach Vince Lombardi spoke the words that have often been quoted in the realm of competition:
“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing."
Over the years, that sentiment has been held up as the standard and used to justify all sorts of cheating, trash talking and backstabbing — all in the pursuit of an athletic goal. But in a 1976 interview for the book "Sports in America" by James Michener, Lombardi admitted that the true meaning of his words had been grossly distorted over the years.
"I meant the effort. I meant having a goal. I sure as hell didn't mean for people to crush human values and morality," Lombardi explained.
Lombardi would have been especially proud of the world-class sportsmanship at the Women's 5000 meter running event in track and field. American Abbey D'Agostino and New Zealander Nikki Hamblin — two women who had never met before the day of this race — were running along with the pack when Hamblin fell and D'Agostino, who had been a step behind, tumbled over her opponent.
One might have expected the two women to stand up, brush themselves off, and continue the run. But instead, when D'Agostino rose, she immediately turned to check on Hamblin — and she found her still lying on the track. With her Olympic dream on the line, D'Agostino made the choice to turn away from the finish line and back toward Hamblin to urge her opponent to get up and continue running.
“I’m so grateful for Abbey for doing that for me," Hamblin later told reporters, "I mean, that girl is the Olympic spirit right there. I’m so impressed and inspired she did that. I’ve never met her before. And isn’t that just so amazing?”
It wasn't long before Hamblin was able to return the favor for D'Agostino as it became immediately clear that the American's knee had been injured in the fall. Rather than leave her, Hamblin stayed by her side until D'Agostino could get to her feet.
The two shared a warm embrace at the finish line. The moment truly embodied the new face of competition — that of strength, athletic prowess and Olympic-level compassion.