Sifan Hassan, a former Olympic track champion from Netherlands who was competing in her first marathon, staged an incredible comeback on Sunday to win the marathon in London in one of the race’s most dramatic and unexpected endings. Hassan won the race in one of the closest and most surprising finishes in its long history.
Hassan, who is just 30 years old, won despite her inexperience as a marathon runner and her incredible versatility as a runner. She holds the world record for the mile and won gold in three shorter events in the track event in Tokyo two years ago.
An hour into the race, Hassan, a Dutch athlete of Ethiopian descent who is more successful at the middle distance, dropped back, stopped to stretch her aching left hip, and offered a drink to one of her competitors while they ran, despite missing a water stop herself. Hassan’s middle distance achievements are more well-known.
Hassan accomplished all of this despite the fact that she prepared for the marathon during Ramadan, a time when many Muslims abstain from food and drink from dawn until dusk. This meant that she couldn’t go for very long runs at this time.
On Sunday, however, she didn’t simply stand there after breaking the tape; she dropped on her knees a few yards beyond it. She was patting herself on the back with a pink towel, seemingly pleased with her accomplishment.
Her run has nothing in common with a standard marathon. When it became clear that she was struggling after an hour, she pulled over and slowed down to stretch. She soon started to feel better, though, and resumed her quest. Over time, she closed the gap to the first runners, who included Olympian gold medalist Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya and defending London Marathon champion Yalemzerf Yehualaw of Ethiopia.
With the finish line in sight, Hassan sped ahead of the group through the rainy streets of Westminster. He initially caught a peek of the leaders, and then he climbed up on top of them. As she rounded the last turn of the 1,500-meter race, she raced off as if she were the winner, and the vast grandstand in front of Buckingham Palace erupted in cheers.
Both the Ethiopian Alemu Megertu and the Kenyan Jepchirchir, her two remaining opponents, had exhausted their resources and were no match for her. After her maiden effort in the marathon, Hassan was declared the champion. She sprinted over the finish line and immediately covered her face with her hands in disbelief.
Kenyan runner Kelvin Kiptum won the men’s race and established a new all-time second-fastest time. Kiptum collapsed near the finish line after finishing the race in 2:01:25, just 16 seconds off the world record established by fellow Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge. Kiptum’s final pace dropped, but he still won by almost three minutes over Kenya’s Geoffrey Kamworor, who finished in second at 2:04:23. Kiptum won by a landslide over the other top contenders. Tamirat Tola of Ethiopia clocked in at a respectable 2:04:59 to take third place.
She said that she had entered the race on a whim and that she had not been able to train to her full potential since it was Ramadan. This was said in an interview conducted just before the big race.
She said at the time that she was not only not certain that she would finish the tournament, but that she did not even expect to win. “I’ve been having nerves for almost a month now,” she said, and she was totally correct. And I just have this insane dread of having to complete a marathon.
The major goal of her trip to London was to learn something practical that she might use in the future, should she decide to run another marathon. In order to be prepared for the next time, she added, “so that I know what to do.”
She will be the defending champion of a big marathon championship when the time comes, whenever that may be.