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A Former NCAA Cross-Country Champ, Abbey (D’Agostino) Cooper Reflects On How College Led Her To The Olympics

By Elizabeth Wyman | Nov. 26, 2019, 2:20 p.m. (ET)

(L) Abbey D'Agostino Cooper competes for Dartmouth College; (R) Abbey D'Agostino Cooper competes at the IAAF World Indoor Championships on March 20, 2016 in Portland, Ore.


Most people remember Abbey (D’Agostino) Cooper as the athlete who went viral during a preliminary heat of the 5,000-meter at the Olympic Games Rio 2016. Cooper and New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin became tangled up when Hamblin fell, only to then became the feel-good story of the summer when the injured pair helped one another to finish the race. That wasn’t the first time all eyes have been on Cooper, who married Jacob Cooper in July of 2018.

Her illustrious career includes an NCAA cross-country championship while competing for Dartmouth, which propelled her for success on the international stage.

“The word joyful just comes to mind because I think everything was so simple,” Cooper said of her time in college. “We had so much right at our fingertips, and you almost just felt carried every day by this team around you and a great coach. I really savor those memories.”

Cooper, now 27, finished her collegiate career as seven-time national champion, 16-time Ivy League champion and 12-time All-American. In 2012, she became the first Dartmouth woman to win a national title, and in 2013 she became the first Ivy League student-athlete to win the cross-country title.

With the NCAA cross-country championships taking place last weekend, Cooper is reminded of what she calls the most memorable of her seven titles.

“I just felt a permission to run freely with my teammates next to me,” she said. “We had a really rough year the year before, so I always had the best experiences personally when it was simultaneously a team success.”

Cooper, who currently trains in Boone, North Carolina, under coach Chris Layne, is gearing up for the Olympic year. Cooper said her biggest learning curve came when she was a 20-year-old sophomore and missed out on a trip to the London 2012 Games, coming up short by 0.19 second in the 5,000-meter final at Olympic trials.

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“No regrets but I don’t think I fully understood what I missed out on,” Cooper said. “I know it just wasn’t God’s will for me to be there that year but, that was just a huge moment of recognition that I did have a place at that level and the desire in me grew to compete there again.”

Cooper is one of countless U.S. track and field athletes that have carried over their collegiate success to the international level. She said she’s always looked up to Shalane Flanagan, a four-time Olympian and two-time NCAA champion for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Kara Goucher, a two-time Olympian and three-time NCAA champion at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Seven of the NCAA women’s cross-country champions since 2000 have gone on to become Olympians, including Flanagan and Canada’s Sheila Reid, who each won the title twice, and Kenya’s Sally Kipyego, the only woman to win it three times.

Cooper credits her time at Dartmouth for providing her with the physical and mental skills to compete at the highest level.

“The team element you can’t really even replicate beyond college,” she said. “To see athletes competing successfully while also elevating their team, and to really see that selfless aspect of it and how beneficial and motivating that is to be part of something so much bigger than them, I think that’s really important for younger athletes to see.”

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Abbey D'Agostino