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As she crossed the line and took the victor’s bouquet of flowers at the 2019 Diamond League meet on Friday in Monaco, Sifan Hassan was stunned that she had just set the women’s mile world record, finishing in 4:12.23.
The previous record was 23 years old—4:12.56, set by Svetlana Masterkova in 1996.
Hassan, 26, is Ethiopian and represents the Netherlands in competition. Her previous best at the mile was 4:14.71, set a year ago in London.
In the final 400 meters on Friday, television analysts doubted that Hassan could reach the mile world record mark—she had been off pace earlier in the race. But she put in a decisive surge before the final turn, seemingly reaching one more gear in the homestretch as the crowd urged her on.
And who could blame the broadcasters? Even Hassan had lost a little faith in the outcome.
“I knew I could run fast, but the first 800 was a bit slow, so after that I wasn’t thinking it would be a world record,” she said. “When I crossed the line I was so surprised.”
Hassan, who has a 14:22.34 personal best for the 5,000 meters, said the race gives her confidence that she can compete in the 1500 meters and the 5,000 meters at the IAAF World Championships in Doha (though the timing of the heats in the two events seem that it would be unlikely any athletes could compete in both).
“The way I finished the 400 there, it’s amazing,” she said, “to run a world record the way I did makes me so happy.”
The mile race at the prestigious meet was held this year in honor of Gabriele Grunewald, the American middle-distance star who died on June 11 at age 32, a decade after she was diagnosed with a rare cancer called adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC). Grunewald had set her personal best in the 1500 meters (4:01.48) at the 2013 Monaco Diamond League meet.
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Ik mis je I’d usually wake up to this text daily for around a month while @gigrunewald spent her summers racing in Europe. It always made me smile. For some reason it always sounded so much prettier than I miss you. Feeling a lot of Ik mis je Gabriele lately. I’m headed over to Monaco tonight, the home of Gabriele’s 1500m PR 4:01.48, to spectate the women’s mile. The @diamondleaguemonaco has graciously dedicated this race to her and the @bravelikegabe Foundation. In the winter of 2018 we visited Monaco and made a Euro trip out of it, which I will be doing again for the next couple weeks. I’ll be visiting random places she would text me from and be looking for her presence. #bravelikegabe #runningonhope
Hassan is a member of the Oregon Project, based in Portland, under the direction of coach Alberto Salazar. Salazar has been under investigation since 2015 by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for alleged abuse of prescription medications with the intent of enhancing the performance of his athletes. Hassan was not a member of the group at that time and is not under investigation. Salazar has denied all allegations.