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As you, by now, are probably well aware, Sifan Hassan’s bid to do what no runner has ever done—win the 1500, 5,000, and 10,000 meters in the same Olympic Games—is off to a banging start. After the Dutch track star fell in the last lap of her heat of the the 1500 meters, she not only got back up to win her heat, but later on Monday won the gold medal in the 5,000 meters. The world of track was shocked, and so was Hassan.
“I used all my energy this morning and I was kind of tired,” she told reporters after the victory. “I couldn’t believe what happened. It was terrible when I tripped.”
“I felt terrible afterwards and I never thought I am going to be Olympic champion.”
Phase one: Completed.
But there is far more to be done. Here is a step-by-step analysis of what Hassan will have to do next in order to achieve the treble and the challenges she’ll have to overcome.
Next: Survive the 1500-meter Semifinals (Aug. 4)
Until the finals on Friday, the 1500 meters is a game of surviving and advancing. All that Hassan will have to do on Wednesday, Aug. 4, is place in the top five of her heat (heat number two) to get the big Q (an auto-qualifier) or have one of the next two fastest times for the small q (advancing on time). That’s not to say that it will be easy or predictable—we saw what happened during the first round of the 1500 meters when Hassan fell in the last lap. And wise competitors on the bubble in the semis are unlikely to let it come down to the last 200 meters and concede the qualifying spots to a risky mass kick. Nothing is predictable.
The primary challenge that Hassan will face in qualifying for the women’s 1500-meter final on Friday will be getting her legs fresh after an exhaustive back-to-back win in the 1500 first round and 5,000-meter final. From the end of the 5,000 meters to the start of the 150-meter semifinal, she’s got a bit more than 45 hours, or one day, 21 hours, 17 minutes. Expect her to sleep a lot of those hours.
Her biggest competitors in the second semifinal heat will be Great Britain’s Laura Muir who has clocked a 3:55.59 this season, Australia’s Linden Hall (whose season best is 3:59.67), and Ethiopia’s Lemlem Hailu (season best is 4:00.35). Fortunately, the fastest woman in the field, Faith Kipyegon (who ran 3:51.07 this season, becoming the fourth-fastest woman at the distance in history) is in the other heat.
Date: Wednesday, August 4
Time: 6:30 p.m. local time / 5:30 a.m. EDT
Then: Win the 1500-meter Final (Aug. 6)
If she advances, Hassan will line up against some wicked fast competition on Friday, Aug. 6, in the 1500-meter final. Of course, if her bid for three gold medals is to stay alive, she’ll have to win the race. If she manages, phase two will be complete.
Perhaps the No. 1 challenge that Hassan will face in her entire triple-victory attempt will be defeating the 2016 Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon in this race. In the 2019 world championships, Hassan beat Kipyegon in a thrilling race in which both athletes clocked a blazing 3:53. However, a month ago in Monaco Kipyegon set a Kenyan national record of 3:51.07 to beat Hassan. (Hassan’s best time in the event is 3:51.95.)
Her rival Kipyegon aside, Hassan will also need to defeat Ethiopia’s Freweyni Hailu, Muir, and the U.S. star Elle Purrier St. Pierre, who are all in the hunt for gold and known for their blazing kicks. And, don’t forget, each of them will have two fewer races in their legs. All will have roughly 50 hours, just over two days (the point when runners often feel the sorest post-race), between the semifinal and the final.
Date: Friday, August 6
Time: 7:50 p.m. local time / 6:50 a.m. EDT
Finally: Win a Third Gold in the 10,000 Meters (Aug. 7)
Hassan will line up one final time for the women’s 10,000 meters on Saturday, Aug. 7. In order to achieve the triple Olympic victory, she will need to win this event after running (presumably) five races in Tokyo.
The race will likely be a thrilling showdown between Hassan and Letesenbet Gidey of Ethiopia. For a hot second back in June, Hassan owned the world record in the 10,000 meters (a 29:06.82 clocked on June 6) until it was bettered by Gidey two days later on the same track during the Ethiopian trials, which she won in 29:01.03.
To defeat Gidey and achieve the historic Olympic distance triple, Hassan’s best move will be to sit and unleash her signature kick. It’s unlikely Gidey will do that (even someone as experienced as Sisson’s coach Ray Treacy thinks she won’t want to hang around and get out-kicked, but will up the pace pretty early.)
If Hassan is still in contention for a triple Olympic win, her main challenge will be recovering. After racing three preliminaries, winning one final, and potentially racing a second final the day before, Hassan will need to be fresh enough to not just medal but win the 25-lap race‚ with less than 24 hours between finals.
Hassan’s main competitive challenge is, of course, her Ethiopian rival Gidey. And although Hassan defeated Gidey in 2019 world championships to win the 10,000 meters over her by four seconds, Gidey will be racing on fresh legs. She’ll also need to defeat Kenya’s Hellen Obiri, two-time world 5,000-meter and world cross country champion, who may be the second most-likely threat. Obiri also raced the Olympic 5,000 meters against Hassan this week, winning silver.
Date: Saturday, August 7
Time: 7 p.m. local time / 6 a.m. EDT