'Crazy' Sifan Hassan eyes unprecedented Olympic track treble

By: AFP      Published: 12:37 PM, 22 Jul, 2021
'Crazy' Sifan Hassan eyes unprecedented Olympic track treble
File photo.

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 1500 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."

- 'I am crazy' -

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 August 2.

She runs the 1500m 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 1500m semi-finals on August 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 August 7.

Dangers lurk, too, among her rivals on the track.

In the 1500m 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.

 Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony director fired

The show director for the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony has been fired on the eve of the event over a decades-old skit referencing the Holocaust, in the latest blow for organisers of the pandemic-delayed Games.

Kentaro Kobayashi's comments in a video of a comedy sketch from 1998 emerged online overnight and sparked shock from some in Japan.

"It came to light that during a past performance, (he) used language that mocked a tragic fact of history," Tokyo 2020 chief Seiko Hashimoto told reporters.

"The organising committee has decided to relieve Kobayashi of his post," she added.

In the sketch, Kobayashi and a comedy partner pretend to be a pair of famous children's TV entertainers.

As they brainstorm an activity involving paper, Kobayashi refers to some paper doll cutouts, describing them as "the ones from that time you said 'let's play the Holocaust", sparking laughter from the audience.

The pair then joke about how a television producer was angered by the suggestion of a Holocaust activity.

In a statement, Kobayashi apologised, describing the skit as containing "extremely inappropriate" lines.

"It was from a time when I was not able to get laughs the way I wanted, and I believe I was trying to grab people's attention in a shallow-minded way."

Kobayashi, a well-known figure in theatre in Japan, is the latest member of the opening ceremony team to depart in disgrace.

The creative director for the opening and closing ceremonies, Hiroshi Sasaki, resigned in March after suggesting a plus-size female comedian appear as a pig.

And on Monday, a composer for the ceremony stepped down following an outcry over old interviews in which he described abusing disabled schoolmates.

A four-minute musical piece he composed was removed from the ceremony, but organisers left it unclear Thursday how Kobayashi's firing might affect the event.

"We're still considering how to hold the opening ceremony tomorrow," Hashimoto said.

"I want to reach a conclusion as quickly as possible."

Details of the opening ceremony have been kept under wraps, and strict coronavirus rules mean only around 950 people will be in the stands of the 68,000-capacity Olympic Stadium for the extravaganza.

Tokyo 2020 has been plagued by a series of gaffes and missteps by Olympic officials, including Hashimoto's predecessor Yoshiro Mori, who resigned after claiming women speak too much in meetings.