Tokyo Olympics: After morning fall Sifan Hassan kicks towards history with 5000m gold

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Well, they can’t say they weren’t warned.

Roughly 12 hours ago, while many of her rivals were no doubt still tucked up in their cardboard beds, watching on from the Olympic village, Sifan Hassan was lying flat on the track of this stadium, surely for a moment fearing her dream of an unprecedented 1500m, 5,000m and 10,000m treble was about to fall at the first hurdle.

Tripped from behind while attempting to cruise through a heat in the shortest of the events, she’d had to scramble to her feet and unleash a devilish kick from 350m out to not only catch the leaders but take the win.

Tonight, from an almost identical position on the track - though this time from a standing start - the Dutch athlete kicked again, ripping through one of the strongest fields in Olympic 5,000m history and away from them, a 57second last lap securing gold. One down, two to go.

Even before her exertions this morning, a burn-up of this ilk would clearly have been to the liking of the mile world record holder. It was all the more baffling then, when the likes of Hellen Obiri, the two-time world champion looking to finally add the Olympic title to worlds golds over cross country, indoors and out, and Gudaf Tsegay, the fastest in the world this year, allowed this to turn into a crawl.

So slow did they set out that the host nation’s Riraka Hironaka found herself at the front, slotting almost by default into the perennial role of the Japanese athlete in these distance finals, making the running when no one else will.

With a kilometre to go they were barely inside 15-minute pace, even in this heat pedestrian stuff for a lineup that included five of the ten fastest women in history, a club which, it is worth remembering, Hassan is still not a part, though it is surely a matter of time for an athlete who briefly held the world record over 10,000m earlier this year.

The 28-year-old’s mark stood for two days before Letesenbet Gidey bettered it and the Ethiopian lies, fresh, in wait in next weekend’s final over the longer distance.

Before then, Hassan faces maybe her toughest task in what she still considers her event, trying to topple defending champion Faith Kipyegon in the 1500m, having watched the Kenyan run away in Monaco when they met in the Diamond League last month. If she can manage that in Friday’s final, the dream will be well and truly alive.

Just as Hassan condemned the east African powerhouses of Kenya and Ethiopia to the minor medals, Obiri taking silver and Tsegay the bronze, a Moroccan, Soufiane El Bakkali, ended the former’s 37-year dominance of the men’s 3000m steeplechase, becoming the first non-Kenyan since Poland’s Bronisław Malinowski at Moscow 1980 - a Games the African country did not even compete at - to take gold in the event.

Ethiopia’s Lamecha Girma was rewarded for his front-running with silver, though a stumble from teammate Getnet Wale on the home bend allowed Benjamin Kigen to run away into bronze and ensure there was at least a Kenyan on the podium.

When it comes to being knocked down and getting back up again, they don’t come much more experienced than Kirani James. The 2012 Olympic champion has been battling to keep his career on track since being diagnosed with Grave’s Disease in 2017 but after several disrupted or completely wiped out seasons looks in great form here and, having qualified fastest for the men’s 400m final with a 43.88 - his quickest run since the final in Rio five years ago - a fairytale ending could well be on the cards.

The Grenadian made his global breakthrough a decade ago when winning the 400m world title in Daegu as an 18-year-old and were it not for World Athletics’ rules governing athletes with Differences of Sexual Development, Christine Mboma would be attempting a similar feat at the same age here.

Instead, the Namibian, second-fastest in the world this year over 400m, has been forced to compete in her second-choice event, the 200m, and she is making quite the impression, having broken the world U20 record twice in a day to qualify second-fastest for tomorrow’s final, where Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson-Herah looks favourite to complete a second successive Olympic sprint double after equaling her personal best of 21.66 in the semi-finals.

Elsewhere, one of the clashes of the Games remains on the cards as Sydney McLaughlin, Dalilah Muhammad and Femke Bol, three of the four fastest women in 400m hurdles history, all qualified for Wednesday morning’s final in impressive fashion despite a torrential downpour which forced both the women’s pole vault qualifying and women’s discus final - eventually won by America’s Valarie Allman - to be halted for the best part of an hour.

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