Sifan Hassan Establishes Her Dominance in Tokyo
TOKYO — At the end of 24,500 meters of hard running in six races over nine days, Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands stood alone before tumbling to …
TOKYO — At the end of 24,500 meters of hard running in six races over nine days, Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands stood alone before tumbling to the track, disbelief etched across her face.
On Saturday, Hassan won the women’s 10,000 meters at the Tokyo Games to pull off an extraordinary feat, winning medals in three grueling events: the 1,500, the 5,000 and the 10,000 meters.
Back on the medal podium for the third and final time, she cried.
“And it wasn’t the medal,” she said. “It was that I’m done. It was a relief. I think I’m kind of crazy?”
On the final night of track and field at the Olympics, Hassan unleashed a ferocious kick on the bell lap of the 10,000 meters to separate herself from Kalkidan Gezahegne of Bahrain, who finished second, and Letesenbet Gidey of Ethiopia, who drifted to third. Gidey holds the world record in the event, but even she was no match for Hassan, who finished in 29 minutes 55.32 seconds.
“I have trained every single moment thinking about this for four years,” she said.
Hassan, 28, was born in Ethiopia but came to the Netherlands as a refugee in 2008. She is now in the conversation as one of the greatest distance runners in Olympic history.
She won the gold in the 5,000 meters on Monday, then took the bronze in the 1,500 meters on Friday. She had tried to push the pace in that race before faltering late as Faith Kipyegon of Kenya defended her title from the 2016 Olympics. Afterward, Hassan said she was pleased.
“I tried my best,” she said, “but I couldn’t do more than this.”
That she was even attempting to medal in three taxing events was considered fairly absurd, even among her fellow athletes. Emily Sisson of the United States, who finished 10th in the 10,000 meters, said she was “shocked” when she found out that Hassan had entered all three races.
“That’s on another level,” Sisson said.
For her part, Hassan said she spent a week and a half battling an inner monologue that was characterized by equal parts confidence and doubt.
“It’s possible,” she said she would tell herself. But then, just as quickly, she would hear herself saying, “No, this is not possible.” She was fueled by one emotion in particular.
“I think I have enough fear,” she said. “I think the fear makes you strong.”
She also flirted with disaster. She tweaked a muscle in her leg while warming up for her qualifying heat in the 5,000 meters, an injury that her management team said bothered her throughout the Olympics. She later fell in her first-round heat of the 1,500 — on the bell lap, no less. But in a sign of more strength to come, she got to her feet and chased down the rest of the field to win and advance.
She was “stressed every day,” she said. And tired. So very tired. By Saturday, she was relieved that she had only one race left to focus on. In a way, her mind was uncluttered for the 10,000 meters. It showed.
The race turned into a slog of attrition in hot and muggy conditions. Three runners dropped out early on. The lead pack later whittled to five, then to four. As the carnage unfolded, Hassan tucked herself behind Gidey and Hellen Obiri of Kenya, who was just ahead of Gezahegne in fourth. Eventually, Obiri succumbed to the elements and the tempo, and dropped off the back, too.
On the first turn of the final lap, Hassan pulled herself onto the right shoulder of Gidey, and sprinted away — straight toward history.
Talya Minsberg contributed reporting.