No keeping her down: After a fall, busy Hassan gets a gold

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Sifan Hassan, of the Netherlands, celebrates after winning the gold medal in the women's 5,000-meter final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

TOKYO – Sifan Hassan pointed to her left shoulder. “I have pain here,” she said.

Then, her right leg. “Pain here.”

Then, she dropped her hands to her sides in exhaustion, too tired to explain it anymore. “Pain there.”

Winning the Olympics really can hurt sometimes. But it's hard to keep the world's busiest speed demon down for long.

Hassan scored two remarkable victories on the Olympic track 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 Olympic journey that will require six races over eight days. It's a journey most thought would be impossible even before the sort of fall that can take even the heartiest of runners off the track.

“To come back (11) hours after that, and to run the race,” said silver medalist Hellen Obiri of Kenya, “and you can see that she's great.”

The 1,500-meter heat should have been a 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, and Hassan said the thought crossed her mind for a split second. She could have filed a protest and potentially been moved along to the next round because the spill really wasn't her fault.

“But I told myself ‘No.' I didn't want to regret it later. I don't want all the excuses,” she said.

And so, in the span of two seconds, she was up again. What came next was one of the most remarkable 60-second laps in racing, as Hassan moved from the back of the pack, picking off runner after runner. All she needed to advance was a top-six finish. She ended up taking first.

“She closed in a 60-second lap with a fall, so she probably ran about a 55," Canada’s 5,000-meter runner Andrea Seccafien said. "So, yeah, she’s on another level for sure.”

Exhausting work, but, Hassan conceded, “I felt like someone who drank 20 cups of coffee.”

While social media blew up with tales of Hassan's recovery, the track and field world waited through lunch and dinner to see what, if anything, she could possibly have left in the tank when she returned for her first gold-medal race.

Turned out to be plenty.

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.

“They were running so slow. I felt OK. Every lap I felt OK,” she said. “Like somebody who is getting energy. I was actually not tired.”

Hassan was 1.57 seconds ahead of Obiri, and Ethiopia’s Gudaf Tsegay took bronze. While most runners collapsed and gasped for breath at the end, 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.

The rest of the action involved preliminaries and medals ceremonies, and there were some great 1-2 combinations on display.

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 instead of a jump-off for the title. 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'll get no 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.

“Everything hurts,” she said. “I’m so tired. But I’m so happy to get the gold.”


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