The Ethiopian-born 28-year-old scored not one, but two remarkable victories Monday
Everyone should have known it would be hard to keep distance runner Sifan Hassan down for long at these Olympics.
The world’s busiest speed demon scored not one, but two remarkable victories Monday. Her gold-medal run in the women’s 5,000 meters came a mere 11 hours after she picked herself up from a scary fall on the final lap of her 1,500-meter heat to not only finish that race — but win it, as well.
Those two wins kept Hassan, the Ethiopian-born 28-year-old who now competes for the Netherlands, very much in the mix for not one, not two, but three medals — in the 1,500, the 5,000 and the 10,000.
It’s a never-before-attempted journey that will require eight races over six days.
It’s the germ of a “crazy idea” — her words — that some might say elevates her into GOAT status simply for trying.
Sifan Hassan, of the Netherlands, celebrates as she crosses the finish line to win the women’s 5,000-meters final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
It was not helped one bit by the sort of fall that takes most runners out of races, let alone chases after history.
“It’s pretty crazy,” U.S. 5,000 runner Karissa Schweizer said. “Let alone that she’s tripling, but to have a fall and be able to retain that composure and then come out here and win the 5k. It’s pretty crazy.”
The morning race, the 1,500-meter heat, should have been a no-muss, no-fuss warmup for Hassan’s main event later in the day. Running from the back, as is her preference, she was gearing up to make her move as the phalanx of 15 runners approached the start of the final lap.
But Kenya’s Edinah Jebitok stumbled and tumbled to the ground just in front of her. Hassan tried to save things by hurdling over her fallen opponent, but instead tripped and did half a barrel roll.
Most runners might have called it a day. Hassan was down for about two seconds, then jumped up and began a most-amazing comeback — from back of the pack to first in the span of about 60 seconds.
“She’s phenomenal,” Canada’s 5,000-meter runner Andrea Seccafien said. “She closed in a 60-second lap with a fall, so she probably ran about a 55. So, yeah, she’s on another level for sure.”
Exhausting work, and the track and field world waited through lunch and dinner to see what Hassan would have left in the tank when she returned for her first gold-medal race.
Sifan Hassan of Team Netherlands looks on during round one of the Women’s 1500m heats on day ten of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 02, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Lingering in the back, then the middle of the pack for the first 11 laps on a track still soaked by an earlier rainstorm, she kicked things in with about 250 meters left. She won the race going away, in 14 minutes, 36.79 seconds — a pedestrian time for her, but amazing considering the circumstances.
Hassan was 1.57 seconds ahead of Kenya’s Hellen Obiri, while Ethiopia’s Gudaf Tsegay took bronze. While most runners collapsed and gasped for breath, Hassan kept on walking, at one point pointing to her chest and offering a look of amazement.
At around the time she was wrapping up, the United States breathed a big sigh of relief when it captured its first gold medal of the track meet. It came unfashionably late — the end of Day 4 — and from an unlikely source: the women’s discus throw.
Valarie Allman opened the final with a throw of 68.98 meters (226 feet, 3 inches), then waited through an hourlong rain delay and nearly 50 throws by her competition. Nobody passed her and America had its first gold medal of the meet.
Earlier in the day, the American favorite in the 100-meter hurdles, Keni Harrison, came in second to Jasmine Camacho-Quinn, who was born and raised in the United States but competes for her mother’s homeland, Puerto Rico.
The day’s other gold went to Morocco steeplechaser Soufiane el-Bakkali, whose victory ended 40 years of Kenyan dominance in the Olympics.
Jasmine Camacho-Quinn, of Puerto Rico celebrates after winning the gold in the women’s 100-meters hurdles final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Pool Photo via AP)
The rest of the action involved preliminaries and medals ceremonies, and there were some great 1-2 combinations to see.
There was the double-gold-medal ceremony for high jumpers Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy and Mutaz Barshim of Qatar. The night before they chose a tie over a jump-off for the title, and they celebrated by grasping hands and thrusting their fists to the sky, then placing their gold medals around each other’s necks as they shared the top step on the podium.
Only one will reach that step in the 400 hurdles, where Americans Dalilah Muhammad and Sydney McLaughlin kept their showdown on track. They easily won their semifinal heats despite the driving rainstorm that hit as they were heading out to race.
“Another one of those things you can’t really control,” McLaughlin said. “I wish I had windshield wipers for my eyes.”
And the women’s 200 set up as a titanic final.
It will include defending champion Elaine Thompson-Herah and her Jamaican rival, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, each of whom were gassed. They returned to the track for two opening heats less than 48 hours after they finished 1-2 in the 100.
“I’m tired. Very tired,” Fraser-Pryce said. “My eyes almost look like someone punched me. That’s what championships are about.”
She’s unlikely to get much sympathy from Hassan. Though her next 1,500 heat isn’t until Wednesday, she’ll be back at the track before then. Tuesday afternoon is her medal ceremony — potentially the first of several.
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