Tokyo Women’s 5000 Prelims: Hassan Kicks to Win, Cranny and Schweizer Advance, Francine Niyonsaba DQd
July 30, 2021
TOKYO — The women’s 5,000-meter final, which will be held at 8:40 a.m. ET on Monday, is now set after tonight’s first round of qualifying. The gold-medal contenders, Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands, Gudaf Tsegay of Ethiopia, and Hellen Obiri of Kenya, all advanced and all looked good doing so, with Hassan winning heat 1 in 14:47.89, going from 7th to 1st over the final 300 thanks to a stellar 60.2 final lap and 28-second final 200 that saw her throw her arms out in celebration of making the final.
Bowerman Track Club teammates Karissa Schweizer and Elise Cranny both advanced as well. Schweizer was part of a seven-woman chase pack at the bell in heat 1, with only the top five finishers guaranteed a spot in the final. And though Schweizer ultimately wound up seventh in that seven-woman group, closing in 63.8 for her last lap, her time of 14:51.34 was enough to snag a time qualifier.
Of the two heats, the second appeared easier on paper as heat 1 contained Hassan, plus two of the three Kenyans (Agnes Tirop and Lilian Rengeruk) and two of the three Ethiopians (Senbere Teferi and Ejgayehu Taye). Perhaps as a result, all five time qualifiers came from the first heat — even though heat 2 had the advantage of knowing how fast heat 1 had run.
That left Obiri and Tsegay as the big dogs in heat 2, but the remaining three spots were up for grabs, and Cranny did her job, advancing by finishing 4th in 14:56.14. Rachel Schneider, the third American, was 7th in 15:00.07 and missed out on the final by .52 of a second.
The biggest story of the prelims, however, was who did not advance: Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi. Though Niyonsaba, the 2016 Olympic silver medalist in the 800, was not viewed as a medal contender, she was a notable entrant here. A DSD athlete, Niyonsaba was not allowed to run the 800 in Tokyo without suppressing her testosterone levels; rather than do that, she moved up to the 5,000 and 10,000 meters and qualified in both. She was set to advance to the final today after finishing in the top five in heat 2, but she was judged to have stepped inside the rail at some point in the race and was disqualified.
Quick Take: No meet official told Niyonsaba about the DQ and sadly the press had to tell an extremely proud Niyonsaba about the DQ
We asked Niyonsaba about what it meant to her to be back in the Olympics after being prevented from running her best event.
“I said I wanted to be, to be an inspiration. To be here, it means a lot. I want to inspire younger girls like me, especially in Africa and across the world. So to be here. I’m glad to be here. I’m happy. I’m very happy,” said a beaming Niyonsaba.
Less than 30 seconds later, another member of the press let Niyonsaba know she had been DQ’d and she was so stunned she had to leave.
“Oh my goodness….. Oh no. Oh. What is this? No. No…. No. No…. No. No. I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” said Niyonsaba, who then left the mixed zone.
Later we bumped into her in the bowels of the stadium and she said she didn’t remember stepping over the rail at any point in the race — that was the violation she was cited for — but did recall being contacted from behind.
We asked World Athletics for information on the specifics of the DQ and they said they didn’t have that information but that the decision was under appeal.
Quick Take: Sifan Hassan says she still hasn’t decided if she’s going to triple and said there is a lot of “pressure” on her
“Not yet” is what she told us when asked if she had made a final decision on her Olympic schedule. We then asked her why she ran a 28-second final 200 and put her arms out in celebration of a heat win, she said she wasn’t celebrating the win but rather making the final.
“There is a lot of pressure because of [the potential of testing positive for] COVID and that the weather is hot. Actually I’m very grateful to make the final I was really scared all the time I was thinking, Oh, what if COVID [knocks me out].”
She also said “the heat is very hard.”
Quick Take: Gudaf Tsegay says she’s changed her training this year and feels like she’s “training very good”
We asked Tsegay, the world record holder indoors at 1500, why she opted for the 5000 over the 1500.
“The difference is I’m stronger….This year, [I’m doing] very stronger (sic) training. I changed my training…I’m training very good,” said said before adding that she felt “very good” today. When asked about the stacked final, she acknowledged that it’s loaded with Obiri and Hassan and others but said, “My focus is only on me.”
Quick Take: World Athletics, please change the qualifying system
We complained about this at the US Olympic Trials, and we’ll complain about it again here. In the 5,000, it makes absolutely no sense to have five time qualifiers as it’s a massive advantage for heat 2. That advantage didn’t materialize tonight, but that doesn’t mean that the system is right. If you’re going to have a 15-person final, go with seven autos per heat and one time qualifier.
We guess the argument can be made that it makes the race more honest but it just seems wrong.
Quick Take: This final was a lot harder to make than the World Championship final two years ago
In 2019, Karissa Schweizer ran a pb of 14:52 in her World Championship prelim and that was enough to finish second and take an auto spot in the final. Today she ran 14:51 and had to sweat out a time qualifier. Literally sweat — the humidity in Tokyo was far tougher to run in than the air-conditioned stadium in Doha.
“The conditions in Doha were just so perfect to run fast and out here you’re dealing with the heat and humidity and it’s a lot tougher 14:52 or 14:51,” Schweizer said.
Likewise, Schneider ran significantly faster today (15:00) than she did in Doha (15:30) and came a lot closer to making the final — she was over 20 seconds off the last time qualifier in 2019 but less than a second off today. That was a tough pill for Schneider to swallow
“I just tried to stay as calm as possible and when the move was made, tried to cover it,” Schneider said. “I’m pretty, pretty devastated to come up half a second short from making it in on time but super, super proud of what Elise and Karissa just did and they’re gonna represent Team USA in that final so well.”
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