The ‘Olympic spirit’ thrives despite bad behavior in Rio’s Summer Games

(RNS) Athletes and officials have lied, scalped, and disgraced themselves. But amid the mendacity there have been fine displays of the 'Olympic spirit.'

Nikki Hamblin, left, of New Zealand stops running during the race to help fellow competitor Abbey D'Agostino of the U.S. after D'Agostino suffered a cramp during the preliminary women's 5000m Round 1 in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 16, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

(RNS) And so the quadrennial international ritual known as the Summer Olympic Games is over.

This year’s games in Rio de Janeiro have been marred by some pretty bad behavior — gold medalist Ryan Lochte acknowleged “over-exaggerating” an account that he and three other Team USA swimmers were held at gunpoint; an Egyptian athlete refused to shake the hand of his triumphant Israeli opponent; an Olympic official was charged with scalping tickets, and several athletes were robbed at gunpoint.

But for every example of pettiness and mendacity there has been another example of the Olympic spirit — what Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern games, defined as an attitude that transcends nationalism and brings out the finest in the human spirit — generosity, honesty and good sportsmanship.

READ: God and the Games

So, as the Rio Games concluded with pomp, ritual and samba-infused performances, here are some examples of the athletes and fans who are taking home gold medals in the Olympic spirit.

  • When Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand fell in the 5,000-meter race, she tripped up Team USA’s Abbey D’Agostino. D’Agostino stopped to help Hamblin up and the two continued on — until D’Agostino collapsed on the track with what doctors would diagnose as a torn ACL. Hamblin then stopped her race and helped D’Agostino up and across the finish line. The two women had never met. As fans cheered like mad, Hamblin said of D’Agostino: “That girl is the Olympic spirit right there . . . Regardless of the race and the result on the board, that’s a moment you’re never ever going to forget for the rest of your life — that girl shaking my shoulder, like: ‘Come on, get up.'”
  • Irish boxer Michael Conlan felt cheated by the judges’ decision that awarded his quarterfinals match to his Russian opponent and went on a profanity-spiced tirade with reporters. Five-year-old Finn McManus, watching back in Ireland, wrote a letter to Conlan offering him his own school medal instead. “I want you to have my school medal because you are a winner,” he wrote. Conlan was moved and plans to meet the boy after the games. Meanwhile, several boxing judges and referees came under scrutiny for questionable decisions and were replaced.
  • World record holder Cate Campbell was expected to take the women’s 100-meter freestyle race handily. But when she fell behind to sixth place and seemed unwell, two other swimmers, including gold medalist Sarah Sjöström of Sweden and Denmark’s Jeanette Ottesen, came to her aid, helping her out of the pool. Campbell later said she was effected by nerves and the pressure of being the favorite.

    Allyson Felix. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

    Allyson Felix. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

  • American sprinter Allyson Felix — the most decorated U.S. track athlete —  found herself in a dead heat with Bahamas’ Shaunae Miller just before the finish line in the women’s 400-meter race. In the final blink of the race, Miller dove across the finish line to take the gold medal by seven one-hundredths of a second over Felix’s silver-medal finish. Many fans were outraged. But Felix maintained her cool and, within seconds of the decision, walked over to both check on Miller as she remained on the ground and congratulate her on the win. “It wasn’t my best race,” Felix said later. “I felt like it got a little bit away from me.”
  • Piotr Małachowski of Poland took silver in discus at Rio, but he won’t hang on to the medal. He is putting it up for sale to raise money for a three-year-old Polish boy with a rare cancer. “In Rio I fought for gold,” Malachowski said on Facebook. “Today I call on all people – let us fight together for something that is even more valuable. For the health of this fantastic boy.”
  • Aly Raisman, captain of Team USA’s uber-popular artistic gymnastic team, had hopes of taking home a gold medal in the all-around competition. Instead, she came in second, behind teammate Simone Biles, who many would describe as the toast of the Rio Olympics. Raisman, who lost her 2012 London Olympic title in the floor exercise to Biles as well, exhibited nothing but good sportsmanship, praising Biles at every opportunity and bucking her up when Biles unexpectedly faltered on the balance beam, taking the bronze. Raisman, 22, was rewarded with a hand-written note from her junior teammates left in her hotel room on the night she took second place in the all-around. “Aly, We couldn’t be any happier for you!” Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian wrote. “All your hard work is paying off, and now you’re an Olympic AA Silver Medalist!! We’ve looked up to you from the beginning of our elite careers and you’ve inspired us in so many ways! We’re so thankful to have you cheering us on, and helping us through this Olympic journey! We love you Mama Aly.”
  • Their neighboring countries are officially at war, but that didn’t deter gymnasts Lee Eun-ju of South Korea and Hong Un-jong of North Korea from taking a smiling selfie together before their competition.

“This is why we do the Olympics,” political scientist Ian Bremmer said on Twitter. Another Twitter user said, “Sports brings everyone together.”

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