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In one of the deepest fields ever at the Olympics, Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands won the gold medal in the women’s 5,000m final in 14:36.79 on Monday to begin a campaign to win two more of the same at these Tokyo Games. Hellen Obiri of Kenya took silver in 14:38.36, and Gudaf Tsegay of Ethiopia won bronze in 14:38.87.
The qualifiers included five of the top ten fastest women of all time, making it a highly anticipated event in the program. It is Hassan’s first Olympic medal, earned in a race that played to her strengths as an athlete with a lethal finishing kick.
With 800 meters to go, six women were still contending for the podium, favoring those with the best finishing speed. Hassan immediately moved into third as the bell sounded and didn’t wait to surge to the front, passing Obiri with 250 meters remaining. She gapped the rest of the field and had the win decisively in hand in the final 50 meters.
“The race was slow, nobody wanted to go in front,” Obiri said. “I know that Sifan is good over the final 400 meters and I tried to hold her, but there was nothing I could do. I tried my best.”
Just less than 12 hours before the women’s 5,000m final, Hassan, 28, raced in the 1500-meter first round, where she fell with about 400 meters to go. Although she was substantially behind the rest of the field by the time she was back on her feet, she stormed back and ended up winning the heat in 4:05.17.
“I used all my energy this morning [in the 1500 meters] and I was kind of tired,” Hassan said after winning the 5,000 meters. “It was terrible when I tripped. I felt terrible afterwards and I never thought I am going to be Olympic champion.”
Clearly she regained form better than she anticipated, however, and credited some caffeine with her recovery.
“Before the [5,000 meters] here I didn’t even care. I was so tired,” Hassan said. “Without coffee I would never be Olympic champion.”
Hassan will circle back to the 1500-meter semifinal at 6 a.m. Eastern on Wednesday, August 4, and if she qualifies, she’ll race the 1500-meter final at 8:50 a.m. Eastern on Friday, August 6. In her grand finale, she’ll race the 10,000 meters at 6:45 a.m. Eastern on Saturday. Although she’s off to an impressive start, she still has her doubts, we she expressed during the medalists’ press conference on Monday.
“I said maybe the 5000 meters wasn’t meant to be. I am not going to win the race, it is not my day,” Hassan said. “I think all the pressure and all the stress helped. I am so lucky and I told myself I had to do it.”
Obiri said after the race that winning silver was an achievement and that she was grateful that the Games were able to happen at all. Training in Kenya during the pandemic has been especially difficult given the high rates of infection in the country. It limited the opportunities to train together in groups, she said.
“Last year I was in very good shape, but this year I was 80 percent,” she said, later adding, “I had to train alone and at home. When you do this you can’t perform well.”
Americans Karissa Schweizer and Elise Cranny lost contact with the lead group with about 1,000 meters to go and placed 11th and 13th respectively, in 14:55.80 and 14:55.98—a season’s best time for Cranny.
Schweizer, 25, also has a double on tap—she’ll compete again in the 10,000 meters on Saturday, along with Obiri and, of course Hassan.
This story will be updated.