Sevan Hasan was sore all over after falling 1,500m earlier that day. That didn’t stop her from winning the 5000m in a masterful fashion.
She rubs her face repeatedly with her outstretched fingers. Then she referred to herself in disbelief. ‘I? I?’ Yes, she is indeed an Olympic champion, which is actually not very clear.
Sevan Hassan, 28, came to the Netherlands as a minor asylum seeker from Ethiopia twenty years ago and began running as a shy teenager, first in Leeuwarden, then in Eindhoven and then in Pappendale. On Monday evening, she won a gold medal in the 5,000m in wet Tokyo. This one is now. She also wants the highest elevation at 1,500 and 10,000 metres.
It’s been 29 years since the Netherlands won the Olympic gold in athletics. Elaine van Langen succeeded in 1992 in the 800m race in Barcelona. On a tartan in Tokyo, Hassan hides under a red, white, and blue flag to pray, but perhaps also to give herself a moment to reflect on the path she has traveled. Then there is a walk for photographers and supporters of the Dutch team in the stands. And I think she was still on the track that morning, in the 1500m series. I don’t even know how you did it. It was like a drama. As if it’s not real.
Hassan here is nothing short of eternal Olympic fame, with a program that astonishes many: After a long hesitation, she decided days ago to end up at three distances. According to her, there is room for that and the main explanation, she says, is that she follows her heart. It must be a unique trilogy of gold. It raises the question here and there that it doesn’t take much on its fork. But in her leadership – ask the moderators – there is no room for such thoughts.
On Monday, the long orange shirt wearer walks the strategy she cherishes. Cute in the back of the participant’s field, looks like a liar, look over, and watch if someone is accelerating. Who is the? when? She can always count on her powerful final shot. In two-thirds of the race, she moves quite a bit. Then, on the last lap, she pulls away from the competition with a convincing acceleration. And the match ended with a time of 14.36 minutes, ahead of Helen Obiri from Kenya and Ethiopian Godaf Tsegai, with a time of 1.5 and 2 seconds. When she looks at the screen as she crosses the line, she holds her head. No, it’s not a movie, it’s a fact, quickly cemented into shiny honorary metal.
It may seem as planned, but it certainly wasn’t easy, as I explained late in the evening, when the Dutch flag disappeared from the shoulders after the Victory Parade in front of the camera crew. The fact that the pace has been slow for so long suits her well. The morning fall caused more physical harm than I initially expected. ‘I was in pain everywhere. Everywhere.’ Suspicion struck even for a moment. Could she still do that?
The hesitant sprint nearly broke her in the 1500m series, although she resolved it admirably. 350m to the finish, she looked like she wanted to move a bit amongst the other runners when she stumbled upon Kenya’s Edina Jepetok, who slammed into the ground in front of her. She got to her feet and rushed hard to find the others, who were suddenly dozens of meters away. In the end, she was still too fast for everyone and got the final. She was shocked. “But I immediately thought: I can’t stop.” Adrenaline rushed through his body for a long time. “I felt like I drank twenty cups of coffee.” For a while, it already crossed her mind: It might have been a bit too much, that overburdened agenda.
Her choice of three distances was somewhat of a surprise. On Saturday evening, she made a slightly sad impression after the series ran for 5000. She sweated, rubbed salt from her eyes, and complained about the hot weather, and the stress of all the restrictions of Covid-19. She still had to “check” the body’s reaction to it.
But after claiming two world titles at 1500 and 10000 in 2019 in Doha – which she has never seen before – she wants more. Previous games in Rio de Janeiro have been disappointing. She was fifth in the 1500m. She did not reach the final in the 800m. After winning the world title at the World Indoor Championships in Portland, she sustained a thigh injury, which she believes prevented her from training adequately. It eventually led to him leaving the Netherlands.
She went to seek shelter in the now-defunct Nike Oregon Project led by controversial coach Alberto Salazar, a former US marathon runner, of Cuban descent. He was banned from sports after the suspension for experimenting with prohibited substances and methods and for emotional and physical abuse of athletes. Hassan had been training for some time under the guidance of his then assistant, Tim Robery.
She is happy with the arrival of the first gold. Pressure is off. The 1500m final is awaited on Friday, and a day later she has to compete in the 10,000m. What is possible? “These are not the Diamond League matches. These are the Olympics. Here are many countries, here are many athletes. But I do my best. I will give everything. It always comes naturally to her.
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