Mass. Runner Just Misses Out on Her Shot to Return to Olympics After Heartbreak at Rio Games

Topsfield native Abbey Cooper, who became famous for finishing a race despite a costly misstep, came up just short of qualifying for her second Olympic Games

Abbey Cooper competes in the first heat of the women's 5000-meter run at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials Friday, June 18, 2021, in Eugene, Ore.
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

It’s not about how hard you fall but whether you get back up, and Olympic runner Abbey Cooper knows a thing or two about getting back up.

The Topsfield, Massachusetts, native was vying for a chance to represent the U.S. in the women’s 5,000-meter race at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics next month.

She had already managed the first step she needed to head back to the Olympics, running a heat in under 15 minutes and 10 seconds on Friday, collapsing with joy after she crossed the finish line far ahead of the field.

“The joy I feel right now, I know that a cheerful heart is good medicine,” Cooper told The Washington Post. “I’m just going to keep the positive energy going into Monday.”

It all came down to 8:40 p.m. Monday night in Eugene, Oregon. Needing to place in the top three in the final to secure her spot at her second Olympic Games, Cooper fell just short.

In the final two laps, the race came down to four women chasing three coveted spots. Elise Cranny, Karissa Schweizer, Rachel Schneider, and Cooper had separated from the rest of the field, and it was a dash to the finish line, but Cooper wasn't able to pass Schneider in the end.

Cranny finished first with a time of 15:27.81. She was followed closely by Schweizer, coming in at 15:28.11. And grabbing that third and final spot was Schneider at 15:29.56.

Just a little over one second behind Schneider, Cooper came in fourth place with a time of 15:31.06 -- just missing out on the opportunity to rewrite her Olympic story after her time at the Rio Games in 2016 was marred by a nasty fall.

During a 5,000-meter heat, Cooper -- who hadn't yet married and changed her name from D’Agostino -- stumbled into New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin, twisting her own knee and knocking them both down. But in a remarkable act of sportsmanship that quickly went viral, Cooper helped Hamblin back onto her feet before going on to finish the race on her injured leg. Cooper had to be helped off the track after finishing, and later discovered she had torn her ACL.

The U.S. Olympic Track Team is complete and ready for Tokyo. Now as their engines are revving, they are just waiting to hear the word “Go!”

“The past five years since Rio have been so much harder than I ever could have imagined,” Cooper told the Post. “Thank God I didn’t know how hard it was going to be. I kept going because this is a calling for me.” 

Maybe that’s why Cooper continues to get back up. 

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