Sifan Hassan Holds off Dawit Seyaum to Earn First Global Gold in 4:04.96 and Lead Ethiopian-Born 1-2-3-4 Sweep

March 19, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. — Seven months ago in Beijing, Sifan Hassan left the women’s 1500-meter final at the World Championships in tears. Though her close was incredible — she covered the final 800 meters in a sensational 1:57.6 to earn bronze — she was merely a footnote to the coronation of middle distance queen Genzebe Dibaba. It wasn’t the first time Hassan’s brilliance had been outshone by the transcendent talent of Dibaba: when Hassan ran 3:56.05 last year in Monaco — the fastest non-Dibaba time since 2006 — she was half a straightaway behind Dibaba, who was well into her world record celebration by the time Hassan crossed the line.

But there was no Dibaba in the women’s 1500 final tonight at the 2016 IAAF World Indoor Championships, and Hassan took full advantage, using a 29.81-second final lap to hold off Ethiopia’s Dawit Seyaum to earn her first global title in 4:04.96. Seyaum was spectacular, but her run was only good enough for silver as she finished right behind Hassan, just as she did in Beijing. Seyaum’s countrywoman Gudaf Tsegay nabbed the bronze in 4:05.71 as America’s Brenda Martinez was outclassed and had to settle for fifth in 4:09.57.

Victory is sweet (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images for IAAF)" Victory is sweet (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images for IAAF)

The Race
Just as she did in her prelim, Aussie Melissa Duncan went right to the front and by 400 meters (65.87) had about a 10-meter lead on the field. Hassan began the race boxed in toward the back of the pack, but she made her trademark move to the front on the third lap and by 600 she had moved into second place. By 800 (2:12.71), she was on Duncan’s shoulder as Seyaum, Tsegay and Martinez all followed close behind.

Just before the 1k mark (2:46.35), Hassan moved into the lead, but she didn’t make a big move right away, covering the next lap in 33.64 seconds. Hassan sped it up slightly from there and as she approached the bell, she led with Seyaum and Tsegay hot on her tail. Martinez was still in touching distance in fourth, but had a lot of work to do to contend for the win.

Seyaum pulled up on Hassan’s shoulder at the bell and tried to pass, which spurred Hassan to launch into her kick. Seyaum was the only one to go with her and the field began to string out, with Hassan and Seyaum creating a slight gap on Tsegay, who in turn had a larger gap on the rest of the field.

Entering the home straight the medals were decided, but the gold medal still hung in the balance. Hassan, as she had for the entire final 500 meters, led slightly, with Seyaum trying desperately to muscle her way past. But Hassan would not let up, and she held on for a well-deserved gold medal. Seyaum and Tsegay followed in quick succession, with the rest of the pack well behind. Axumawit Embaye won a three-way kick to make it 1-2-3-4 for Ethiopian-born athletes, while Martinez and Duncan took fifth and sixth.

1 744 Sifan HASSAN NEDNED 4:04.96
2 658 Dawit SEYAUM ETHETH 4:05.30
3 659 Gudaf TSEGAY ETHETH 4:05.71
4 657 Axumawit EMBAYE ETHETH 4:09.37
5 828 Brenda MARTINEZ USAUSA 4:09.57
6 605 Melissa DUNCAN AUSAUS 4:09.69
7 764 Renata PLIS POLPOL 4:10.14
8 725 Violah Cheptoo LAGAT KENKEN 4:10.45 SB
9 771 Danuta URBANIK POLPOL 4:12.59

Quick Take #1: Sifan Hassan took a strong anti-doping stance after tonight’s victory

Hassan said that tonight’s final didn’t go as expected as she didn’t think Duncan would go out that fast, but once she did, Hassan was okay with it as she had confidence in her strength (she’s run 8:29 for 3k and 14:59 for 5k) and her ability to kick off of any pace.

We were interested to know whether Hassan thought she would be able to beat world record holder Dibaba should they meet in Rio.

“I know that Seyaum [has a] really good kick and also the Kenyan girl (2015 WC silver medallist Faith Kipyegon), also Genzebe,” Hassan said. “I don’t really think about only one athlete because a lot of athletes have a kick…Genzebe is an amazing athlete and I have big respect for her but the other athletes [are] also not easy [to beat].”

Hassan’s most interesting comments came after Race Results Weekly’s Chris Lotsbom asked her about the drug issues that have plagued the sport — particularly the women’s 1500 — as of late.

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Hassan, who moved to the Netherlands from Ethiopia in 2008, said that it’s been a difficult few months as there have been several high-profile women’s runners who have been busted recently.

“It is so really sad,” Hassan said. “I wish everybody were clean and it would be more fantastic if everybody [was] clean. Everyday I saw on the Facebook, this runner with the drugs, this runner with the drugs. It’s so hard to believe who runs clean and who runs with the drugs.”

Hassan splits time training between between the Netherlands and training camps in Africa and called upon the authorities to test her and other athletes as frequently in Africa.

“[When] I go to training camp, I wish they control us more like at home,” Hassan said.

She also said how proud she was to be competing as a clean athlete but sympathized with the fans, who may simply assume she cheats because of the event she runs.

“I know I’m clean athlete, but for the people, it’s so hard to believe,” Hassan said. “You think they’re clean and tomorrow you hear something …. If everybody [competes] clean and win, I know they will be proud like I [am] proud of myself. If they cheated … they know they are cheater, they are already loser. I’m really proud for the one[s] who run clean and I’m proud of myself too.”

Quick Take #2: Could Brenda Martinez have done anything to get a medal tonight? “Honestly, I don’t know”

Martinez said after USAs she was glad that there would only be two Ethiopians at Worlds, but because of Embaye’s wild card entry for winning the World Indoor Tour, there were actually three (four if you count the Ethiopian-born Hassan). Martinez did all she could to be the top non-Ethiopian-born runner, but that was only good enough for fifth place tonight.

Given Martinez’ best event is the 800, there was no shame in taking fifth, especially considering the top three are on a completely different level right now.

“They don’t mess around, they can kick any way they want they can throw surges in the middle of the race and that doesn’t shake them at all,” Martinez said.

We asked Martinez if she could have done anything different to get a medal and she responded: “Honestly, I don’t know.”

Martinez was pleased that her clubmate Boris Berian took home gold tonight but said she was in the bathroom at the time (Martinez never watches teammates’ races before her own as they make her too nervous).

Though a medal at Worlds obviously would have been nice, it wasn’t going to happen for Martinez against this field, and in all her indoor season has to be considered a roaring success. She ran a very quick 800 (2:00.14), won her first U.S. title and took fifth at World Indoors in her secondary event. She is well-positioned to regain her 2013-14 form as she transitions to the outdoor season.

Quick Take #3: Shannon Rowbury probably made the right call choosing the 3k over the 1500

Before these championships, we thought it was debatable which race would be best for Shannon Rowbury. We thought she probably had the best chance to medal in the 3000, but her best shot to win was in the 1500.

Watching this race, we think she’ll be happy she chose the 3,000 as this was not an optimal race setup for Rowbury. Her strength is her kick and this was a fairly fast race with a 4:04 winning time. Also, it didn’t look like any of the Ethiopian or Ethiopian-born runners were really off their game as the top 3 finished only .75 of a second apart. We just don’t think Rowbury was beating Hassan or Seyaum in this race and with the close margin it would have been difficult to sneak in there for third. Meanwhile in the 3,000, after Genzebe Dibaba and Meseret Defar, she has a good a shot as anyone to grab the bronze.

Quick Take #4: Who Was That Aussie Who Took The Lead And Gapped The Field?

Given the quality of the field, spectators might have been surprised to see Australia’s Melissa Duncan with a 10 meter lead after the first 400m and still holding the lead around the 1K mark. She has a 4:05.56 PR and was not someone considered a medal threat coming into these championships.

We were curious so asked her about her strategy, taking the lead and setting a quick pace. She said that she didn’t think she would win or medal and thought 6th place would be a good race for her (and that’s what she finished), but set the quick pace because she figured that was her “best bet” to finish well. She admitted that right now she “can’t compete with these girls the last couple laps” and explained that a slower tactical race “doesn’t suit her” and said she finds them boring. Summing up the race, Duncan stated, “Look to be honest, it probably went exactly as I expected. I didn’t expect to be able to hang on, but I just thought I’d give it a crack and hopefully come away as best I could.”

For Duncan, this race (only her second indoor meet ever) was largely a tune-up for the Australian National Championships (and Olympic Trials) in a couple weeks which is her main focus as she hopes to make the squad for Rio.

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