TOKYO (AP) – By the time she reached the 65th and final lap of her eight-day Olympic odyssey, Sifan Hassan’s neck had seized up and she could no longer turn her head. She could barely breathe and she couldn’t feel his arms anymore.
As she neared the end, she couldn’t see properly and wondered “why did they move the finish line? “
His legs knew exactly where it was.
At the start of his sixth three-distance race covering more than 24 kilometers on the sweltering Olympic track in Tokyo, Hassan passed world record holder Letesenbet Gidey to win the 10,000-meter gold on Saturday.
“I have never been as deep as I am today,” said Hassan, who was born in Ethiopia and left as a teenager to settle as a refugee in the Netherlands.
Two of her medals were gold – the 10,000 that added to the 5,000 she won to kick off the Games. She also won a bronze medal in the 1,500m, the race that almost ended it all at the start of the quest.
After the 10,000 victory, Hassan was crying at the medal stand. Crying for victories, but also for something else.
“I am so happy,” she said. “I’m relieved. I’m done. I can sleep.”
There were no longer, according to Hassan, the “stupid nightmares” that kept waking her up as she wondered if she had made the disastrous decision to try all three events.
Who else would think of such a thing?
“There is something wrong with me,” she said. “But I’m really happy. Grateful.”
Hassan had run three 1,500-meter races and two 5,000-meter races by the time she lined up against Gidey for Saturday’s start. She had also tripped over another rider in one of her 1,500 qualifying laps and had to pick herself up and sprint on the final lap to win and keep her quest for the treble alive.
His last hurdle was Gidey, who holds world records in the 5,000 and 10,000, and was fresh – here for just one race and hoped for just one gold.
Gidey led for much of the race, with Hassan behind her. As they came out of the last corner of the last lap, Hassan ordered his legs to go once more. They did, and Gidey – slightly knocked down as Hassan launched his attack as they approached a group of doubled runners – had no response.
Hassan won in 29 minutes, 55.32 seconds. Kalkidan Gezahegne also passed Gidey for the silver, with Gidey holding the bronze.
Hassan said she knew she won, but not much else scored. What happened just before and just after the finish line was unclear.
“Then I wanted to celebrate,” she said. “But when I finished, I fell. I couldn’t breathe.
Hassan was lying on her side on the track as a doctor applied an ice pack to her neck and the side of her head. But it only lasted a minute or two. She quickly bounced to her feet and draped a Dutch flag over her shoulders, ready for her third round of celebrations.
Fanny Blankers-Koen is the only other woman to win three individual track medals at the Olympics. It was a relative breeze for the Dutch sprinter in the 100, 200 and 80-meter hurdles (she also won a gold medal in the 4×100-meter relay). Since the time of the great Emil Zatopek, a long-distance runner has not won three individual medals. Zatopek incredibly clinched gold in the 5,000, 10,000 and marathon at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.
More recently, a 5,000-10,000 double was considered the limit for the greats – runners such as Mo Farah, Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba.
Hassan ran the 1500-10000 double and won both world championships two years ago in Doha, Qatar.
Hassan said running during her training days at school was how she burned off her “excess energy”.
It stuck with the 28-year-old throughout her career. Amidst his busy schedule, Hassan also did a few training runs in Tokyo, as if six top-level distance races at the Olympics weren’t enough.
Would she bother to go for a run again on Sunday?
“No,” she said. “I’ll have some coffee and relax.”
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