Sifan Hassan’s bid for a distance treble at the Olympics was nearly derailed Monday when the world champion tripped over another runner and fell at the final bell of her 1,500-meter heat.
Amazingly, she ended up winning the race.
Hassan tried, but failed, to hurdle over Kenya’s Edinah Jebitok, who tumbled just in front of her as runners jostled for position at the start of the final lap.
Hassan also went crashing down but rolled, quickly got back to her feet and set about chasing down the pack in an astonishing comeback.
Staring at a shock elimination, the Dutch runner sped past a couple of runners down the back straight, had reached the leading pack by the last bend, and won from Australia’s Jessica Hull and American Elinor Purrier St. Pierre after powering down the home straight.
Hassan finished in 4 minutes, 5.17 seconds to qualify for the semifinals, although she nearly paid dearly for the decision to run at the back of the field in the early stages of the race and wait for the bell to make her move. She was third-from-last at the start of the final lap and just before she fell.
Her recovery kept alive her bid for the treble in Tokyo.
Hassan had already qualified to run in the 5,000-meter final later Monday at the Olympic Stadium, although the energy she expended on that last-lap scramble in the 1,500 heats might catch up with her when she returns in the evening session to try for her first gold of the Games.
Hassan didn’t stop to speak to reporters after the 1,500 race as she rushed away to recover and prepare for the 5,000 final.
Hassan, who was born in Ethiopia but moved to the Netherlands as a refugee, is expected to battle with two-time world champion Hellen Obiri of Kenya for the 5,000 gold, while there are three Ethiopians also challenging for a medal.
Hassan won a 1,500-10,000-meter double at the world championships in Doha, Qatar in 2019. She has said she will also run in the 10,000 meters at the Olympics. No athlete has won 1,500-, 5,000- and 10,000-meter golds at the same Olympics.
Hassan’s grueling schedule means she will have to run six races in eight days in the Tokyo heat and humidity, including those two races on Monday and the 1,500 and 10,000 finals on back-to-back days on Friday and Saturday.