4 moments of grace that model true Olympic spirit

These stories prove sportsmanship—and kindness—are still in full swing at Rio, and in the world.

Alexander Hassenstein | Getty Images, Clayton | Corbis via Getty Images, Patrick Smith | Getty Images, Emmanuel Dunand | AFP | Getty Images

The Olympics is an event marked by world-class athleticism, ferocious competition, and sometimes unparalleled critique of those standing proudly on the world stage. Yet even so, every four years the world is struck by some amazing examples of sportsmanship and poise that remind us what the games are truly all about. This year, we’ve been surprised by some of the kindest and most gracious moments that may have flown under the mainstream radar.

Simone Biles: Crushing her routines and adoption fallacies

US gymnast Simone Biles won the gold for the&nbsp;all-around&nbsp;and floor events&nbsp;ahead of her compatriot Alexandra Raisman.<br>

US gymnast Simone Biles won the gold for the all-around and floor events ahead of her compatriot Alexandra Raisman. Emmanuel Dunand | AFP | Getty Images

America’s most decorated gymnast completely stole our hearts with her spunky attitude and five Olympic medals (four of them gold!). An integral part of the now-legendary “Final Five,” Simone Biles has officially won more medals in a single Olympics than any other female gymnast. This tenacious and exuberant athlete isn’t afraid to speak her mind, either.

Simone, born in 1997 to Shanon Biles, was officially adopted in 2003 by her biological grandparents. On Sunday, August 8, NBC commentator Al Trautwig made the remark that while Simone may call Ron and Nellie Biles ‘dad’ and ‘mom,’ they most definitely are “not her parents.” Trautwig received heavy criticism on social media (and later apologized), but it didn’t seem to faze Biles. With eight straightforward words, Biles put the commentary to rest. When asked by US Weekly if she had a response to the controversy she said, “My parents are my parents, and that’s it.”

We’re sure the millions of adoptive families around the world agree with Biles’ wise and uncomplicated words. Family is family, and indeed that’s the end of it.

Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian hand-write a letter to Aly Raisman

Madison Kocian of the United States is hugged by&nbsp;teammates Alexandra Raisman, (left) and Lauren Hernandez. August 9, 2016.<br>

Madison Kocian of the United States is hugged by teammates Alexandra Raisman, (left) and Lauren Hernandez. August 9, 2016. Clayton | Corbis via Getty Images

Aly Raisman has a lot to be proud of after these Olympic games—not only did she earn the silver medal in both the women’s all-around and the women’s floor exercise, she was a beloved team captain who led her team to victory, winning the gold for the team event. Anyone watching the games could plainly see Raisman’s natural ability to encourage and inspire her teammates. No matter what event, she could be seen dishing out encouragement to her teammates, and congratulating every job well done. Raisman’s incredible athletic abilities, as well as her inspiring leadership qualities are definitely to be admired. Her younger teammates apparently think so too.

In an amazingly sweet gesture, Laurie Hernandez, 16, and Madison Kocian, 19, penned an all-too-rare handwritten note to their captain, affectionately referring to Raisman as “Mama Aly.” Left on her bed for when she returned to Olympic Village after her silver-medal routine, the note read, “Aly, we couldn’t be any happier for you! 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. Love, Maddie and Laurie.”

Raisman is one of the most decorated gymnasts in the sport—and while we couldn’t be more impressed with her athletic accomplishments, we’re pretty proud of her decorum and truly “Olympic” attitude, too.

German twins finish marathon together—holding hands

Anna Hahner (L) of Germany and her sister Lisa Hahner during the Women's Marathon on August 14th in Rio.<br>

Anna Hahner (L) of Germany and her sister Lisa Hahner during the Women’s Marathon on August 14th in Rio. Alexander Hassenstein | Getty Images

Twins and training partners Lisa and Anna Hahner crossed the finish line for the women’s marathon in a way that neither of them expected to—holding hands. They placed 81st and 82nd, respectively. The twins, who say the action was completely unplanned, drew harsh criticism from their own country’s officials, some accusing them of not taking the race seriously. The sisters were far from placing and say that they were separated for most of the event. When they were each only about 300 meters from the finish line, they realized they were next to each other, so they did what sisters around the world often do—they grabbed hands.

In an email to the New York Times, Anna recalled, “It was a magical moment that we could finish this marathon together.” Her sister Lisa added, “Neither the time nor the position was what made us happy but to know that we did the best that was possible that day.”

Mary Wittenberg, former director of the New York Marathon voiced her support for the heartfelt action saying, “There are moments when it’s not all about [medals] and most often, as in the case of the Hahners, it’s also because that’s not in the cards at a given event. So an athlete makes a conscious decision to make the most of the moment in a different way.”

They did indeed make the most of the moment, and who better to share such a wonderful moment with than a beloved sister?

After a fall on the track, competing runners help each other keep going

Abbey D'Agostino of Team USA (L) talks with Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand on August 16 in Rio.<br>

Abbey D’Agostino of Team USA (L) talks with Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand on August 16 in Rio. Patrick Smith | Getty Images

During a qualifying heat of the women’s 5000m race, American runner Abbey D’Agostino clipped New Zealand competitor Nikki Hamblin from behind. An event that could have been completely heartbreaking turned out to be one of the most memorable of the games. The incident sent both runners tumbling to the track, but that didn’t stop them from finishing the race. In a moment that truly captures the essence of Olympic spirit, D’Agostino pulled herself up and kept going. Instead of leaving her competitor behind, though, she stooped down and spurred Hamblin (who was lying quietly on the track) on with the words “Get up. We have to finish this.” Though D’Agostino was badly injured herself, she helped Hamblin to her feet and the pair got back to their race—with almost half of it left to go.

Both women did finish the race, and although they were far from qualifying, Olympic officials decided that they would each have a place in the final event. “I’m never going to forget that moment,” Hamblin said. “When someone asks me what happened in Rio in 20 years’ time, that’s my story … That girl shaking my shoulder, [saying] ‘come on, get up’.”

These shows of camaraderie, kindness, and grace demonstrate why we love to watch the Olympic games. Perhaps more than the medals and the fanfare and the hullabaloo, the real thrill is in seeing athletes from all over the world demonstrating their humanity and decency to one another in the face of tremendous pressure.

Ashley Jonkman
Ashley Jonkman

Ashley is a freelance writer and editor. She lives with her husband, two sons and two rambunctious dogs in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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