Olympic track champion Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands ran his first marathon on Sunday and staged a stunning comeback to win the London Marathon in one of the most dramatic and unexpected finishes in racing history.
In winning, Hasan, 30, showed his impressive range as a runner – he won three medals in three short distances on the Tokyo Olympic track two years ago and set a world record in the mile – but also his inexperience as a marathoner.
An Ethiopian-born Dutch athlete best known for her middle-distance success, Hassan fell off the pace about an hour into the race, stopping at least once to stretch her aching left hip. She later said she offered one of her competitors a drink while still running after missing a water stop — a result she never trained for.
Hassan did it all despite training for the race during Ramadan, a month of fasting that left him unable to complete long runs without eating or drinking during the day.
Yet at the finish line Sunday, she injured her knee a few yards past the tape she had just broken, wrapped in a pink towel and seemed to talk about what she had accomplished.
“I can’t believe it,” she said to no one in particular.
“I learned to be patient and run your own race,” Hasan told a news conference. “Keep going and maybe you’ll be surprised.”
His race was not a textbook marathon. She stopped for about an hour, clearly struggling, slowing down as she stretched. She soon began to feel better, but returned to hunting. He closed the mile-long gap on a pre-running group that included experienced marathoners such as Olympic gold medalist Peres Jepsirchir of Kenya and reigning London Marathon champion Yalemserf Yehuala of Ethiopia.
As he crept closer to the front through the rain-soaked streets of Westminster, Hassan swung first. From the point of view of leaders Then on their shoulders. Finally, as she rounded the last turn of the race, a huge grandstand filled with spectators in front of Buckingham Palace let out a roar. He set off to close the 1,500m race.
Her final two rivals, Alemu Megertu and Jebsirsir of Ethiopia, were no match for her. Just like that, Hassan, in his first race, became a marathon champion. Crossing the line at a sprinter’s pace, she covered her face with her hands in disbelief.
Hassan finished in 2 hours 18 minutes 33 seconds. Megerdu finished second, Jepsirsir third and Yehulau fourth.
Kenya’s Kelvin Kipdam won the men’s race, posting the second fastest time in history. Kipdam collapsed at the line after finishing in 2:01:25 – just 16 seconds short of the world record held by his countryman Eliud Kipsoj. Well clear of the rest of the elite field, Kipdam faded near the finish, but finished nearly three minutes ahead of Kenyan runner-up Geoffrey Kamworer, who finished second in 2:04:23.
“I’m very happy with the result,” said the 23-year-old Kipdam. “I don’t know what to say right now, I’m just grateful.”
Hassan is no stranger to winning, or soliciting, running propositions. He won gold medals in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters at the Tokyo Olympics and bronze in the 1,500, six grueling races over nine days.
That experience was still fresh in Hasan’s mind when he woke up one morning and decided to run London.
In an interview before the race, he admitted that he entered the race on a whim, and that training during Ramadan prevented him from improving his training. “Sometimes I wake up, ‘Why I decided to run a marathon?” She had said that last week.
She admitted that not only did she not expect to win, but she didn’t even believe she would finish. “I already have nerves, almost a month,” he said. “And I’m really scared of a marathon.”
Her goal, for the most part, is to learn from her London experience so she can benefit from it if she ever tries the distance again. The most important thing is to finish the race,”So I know what to do next time.”
Next time, whenever it comes, he will cross the starting line as a major marathon champion.