TOKYO – Sifan Hassan may have raised eyebrows when she announced an unprecedented bid for triple Olympic gold in the 1500m, 5000m and 10,000m, but on previous form she looks tailor-made to make history in Tokyo.
The 28-year-old, born in Ethiopia but now a long-time naturalised Dutchwoman, became the first athlete to achieve the 1,500m and 10,000m world double in Doha in 2019.
It was a remarkable show of running, especially as it came after the news that her coach Alberto Salazar, the head of the Nike-funded Oregon Project, had been banned for four years over doping-related issues.
“The hardest moment and pressure in my life was in Doha and I handled it,” she said earlier this month. “Tokyo will not be hard.”
Hassan certainly did handle it, meeting the furore head-on after she had completed the double.
“If they want to test me they can test me every single day. Every single day,” she said.
“I believe in clean sport, I’m always clean, I will always be clean.
“I believe in the Oregon Project (since disbanded by Nike). I’ve seen Alberto. He’s worked really hard and that is what I know.”
Hassan failed to bow down to more potential criticism from detractors when she selected former Salazar assistant Tim Rowberry as her new coach.
“Three years ago I made the choice to go to America,” she said in 2020 after choosing Rowberry.
“I now have a familiar situation where I feel very much at home.
“I have considered several options and met new people to find the right click, but I believe that my current training situation is the best way to successfully prepare for the Tokyo Olympics.”
Hassan’s ability to handle herself off the track should be no surprise from someone who had the courage to flee Ethiopia in 2008 aged 15. She found sanctuary in the Netherlands, receiving a Dutch passport in 2013.
For her it is no flag of convenience either.
“Since I came (to the Netherlands) seven years ago, I’ve had no contact with the Ethiopian people; I’ve had more contact with the Dutch people,” Hassan told spikes.worldathletics in 2015.
“I feel more Dutch because I have more contact.
“The more contact you have, the more strongly you feel about it.”
Hassan has not completely cut herself off from all things Ethiopian.
She counts Abebe Bikila, who famously won 1960 Olympic marathon gold running barefoot, as one of her three sporting heroes.
However, it is the maxim of late boxing legend Muhammad Ali that dictates her intensive training regime.
“I only start counting (the sit-ups) when it starts hurting because they’re the only ones that count.
“That’s what makes you a champion.”
Hassan’s treble bid echoes that of the “Czech Locomotive”, Emile Zatopek, who won 5,000m, 10,000m and marathon golds at the 1952 Olympics.
For Hassan it may be more of a challenge in terms of the scheduling with the toughest day on Aug 2.
She runs the 1,500m heats in the morning and then, provided there has not been an upset in qualifying, the 5,000m final in the evening session.
She would then need to come through the 1,500m semi-finals on Aug 4 with the final two days later.
If it is two from two after that, a sleepless night might beckon ahead of a history-making attempt at the third, the 10,000m final, on Aug 7.
Dangers lurk, too, among her rivals on the track.
In the 1,500m stands the figure of Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon, who beat her comfortably in the Monaco Diamond League meeting this month.
The 10,000m features formidable Ethiopian Letesenbet Gidey, who finished second to Hassan at that distance in Doha, but smashed the Dutch runner’s world record in the event just two days after she had set a new mark in June.
Hassan has warned both of her rivals she is physically in the “best shape” of her life, although mentally it may be another matter.
“Right now if you can see inside of my mind you would think I am crazy,” she said.
The world will see soon enough whether there is logic in her craziness.