Nikki Hamblin and Abbey D’Agostino receive Pierre de Coubertin award for helping each other to finish race after falls

The two Olympic runners who helped each other cross the finish line after falling together in the middle of their race have been awarded a prize for embodying the Olympic spirit.

New Zealander Nikki Hamblin and American Abbey D’Agostino were awarded the Pierre de Coubertin award on Saturday night by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for epitomising the Olympic values of fair play and sportsmanship.

The pair were racing in a 5,000m heat when Hamblin tripped and fell. D’Agostino was caught up in the tumble and also fell. She managed to get up, and rather than sprinting off, stopped and helped Hamblin to her feet.

The pair began to race on, but D’Agostino had twisted her leg badly in the tumble and fell again. Like D’Agostino, Hamblin chose to stay at her side rather than race away, giving up her own medal chances in the process.

Supported by Hamblin, Agostino managed to get up and the pair finished the race together.

The award, which is named after the father of the modern Olympic games, has only been given 17 times.

Speaking after Saturday night’s ceremony in Rio, Hamblin said: “I think it’s very special for both Abbey and myself. I don’t think either of us woke up and thought that that was going to be our day, or our race, or our Olympic Games. Both of us are strong competitors and we wanted to go out there and do our best on the track.

“I was on the ground for too long to get back up and catch on to the pack. So then it becomes about finishing the race, and finishing the race well. I am so grateful to Abbey for picking me up, and I think many people would have returned the favour … Once you are on the track, there is a mutual understanding of what it takes to get there.”

Although Hamblin and D’Agostino failed to meet the qualifying time for the heat, both were included in Friday’s 5,000m final after protests from their teams, although D’Agostino was too injured to take part.

The Norwegian men’s handball team was also honoured for their players’ attitude during a European championship match against Germany earlier this year when they lost out on qualifying for the Olympics due to a last-minute goal.

The awards were presented by the IOC vice-president, Nawal El Moutawakel, who said the Rio games have reminded everyone of the power and magic of sport.

He said: “We have been inspired by great moments of sportsmanship. Athletes are inspirational role models, and it is these moments of fair play that we have come together to celebrate today.”