Slate: ‘Starting to Hate’ Good Sportsmanship at the Rio Olympics

“I’m starting to hate that moment when Olympic runners helped each other to the finish line,” declared Slate writer Justin Peters in a headline on Wednesday. The moment in question occurred during a 5,000 meter heat in Rio on Tuesday. Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand fell and took out American Abbey D’Agostino with her. D’Agostino help Hamlin to her feet, while Hamblin cheered on D’Agostino when she showed signs of a knee injury, and both finished roughly two minutes behind first place.

With what was a great example of sportsmanship during a highly completive competition, Peters simply wrote it as simply, “a nice thing.” All he took away from the moment was how it was covered by other news outlets and seemed to be driven up a wall by it. “But almost instantly, the D’Agostino-Hamblin tale got amplified into an Olympics moment,” Peters whined.

The Slate writer couldn’t handle the media’s reports of the moment. He didn’t appreciate USA Today describing it as, “an extraordinary gesture to warm the hearts of a global audience and spoke to everything that is good and righteous about international sports’ grandest competition.” Nor did he like how United Press International called the moment an example of human “compassion.”

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Peters seemed determined to diminish the inspirational moment:

This is the Olympics moment industrial complex at work. A woman helping another woman on the track becomes “everything that is good and righteous about international sports’ grandest competition.” It would have been an extraordinary gesture if front-runner Almaz Ayana had stopped, backtracked, and helped Hamblin and D’Agostino across the finish line. It would have been extraordinary if either runner would have come back to win the heat; if they had endured great danger and hardship to get to the Olympics in the first place; if, I don’t know, they had been Israeli and Palestinian, respectively, and their actions had bridged a social chasm. I’m not trying to say it wasn’t a nice moment. It was quite nice! But why do so many in the media need it to be more than that?

He even lashed out at the two runners themselves. When noting that in an interview Hamblin said D’Agostino demonstrated the Olympic spirit, Peters spat, “Sure, I guess. Just about anything might embody the Olympic spirit, because “the Olympic spirit” is a nebulous concept that means whatever the person invoking it wants it to mean.”

His seeming vitriol for sportsmanship was taken to another level when he targeted sports in general, opining, “We should be very leery of efforts to depict athletic gumption as somehow “good and righteous,” to impute morality and character to actions on the field of play, as if the decision to finish or withdraw from a race holds any broader social implications.”

Nicholas Fondacaro
Nicholas Fondacaro
Nicholas C. Fondacaro