Down Goes Hassan! Gudaf Tsegay Wins Dramatic 10K Final at 2023 Worlds

BUDAPEST, Hungary – Sifan Hassan’s legacy, when her glittering career one day reaches its end, is of a runner who pushed her body to its limits. 1500 and 10k double gold in Doha? Yup. Three Olympic medals at the Tokyo Olympics? Check. A London Marathon victory despite getting dropped midway through? No problem.

But sometimes, when you push your body to its breaking point…your body breaks. And on the opening night of the 2023 World Athletics Championships, after winning her 1500-meter prelim 6.5 hours earlier and 9,970 meters of racing in the 10,000-meter final, Hassan’s legs gave out. Engaged in an all-out sprint with 5,000-meter world champion Gudaf Tsegay on the home straight and furiously attempting to protect her slim lead, Hassan floated out into lane 2 and then swung back her right arm, hitting Tsegay’s right shoulder. 

Battling extreme fatigue, that’s all it took. Down went Hassan. And here came Tsegay to win the gold medal in 31:27.18.

Tsegay powered home with a huge 59.01 last lap (27.95 final 200) to lead an Ethiopian sweep – defending champ Letesenbet Gidey took silver (31:27.18) and Ejgayehu Taye (31:28.31) earned bronze, her first global outdoor medal. Alicia Monson finished 5th in 31:32.29 – the best finish by an American in this event since Emily Infeld’s bronze in 2015. Hassan, after picking herself up, crossed the finish line in 11th place.

With muggy conditions at the start (76 degrees, 74% humidity, 67 dew point), the race started slowly – really slowly. The field reached 1600 meters in 5:36 (35:01 pace) and 5k in 16:23.55. With a mile to run, 11 of the 22 starters remained in the lead group – though surprisingly, Elise Cranny was not among them. The US 5k/10k champ seemed well-suited for a slower race given the speed she demonstrated last month in Monaco in running 4:16.47 in Monaco, the second-fastest mile ever by an American woman. But Cranny struggled tonight and would fall off just before four laps to go, taking 12th place.

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The pace would pick up over the final mile, but only slightly; by the bell, seven women remained within a second of the lead and the field had yet to crack 71 seconds for a single lap the entire race. That set the stage for a mad dash to the finish, and Hassan, who had been 10th with 500 to go, made a huge push on the backstretch to seize the lead from reigning champion Gidey. But the Ethiopians were not going to let Hassan have this one. Gidey and Tsegay stalked her mercilessly through the turn, and when Hassan shifted gears again at the top of the home straight, Tsegay was right with her.

Hassan drifted out from lane 1, forcing Tsegay to run wide, then darted back inside toward lane 1 before drifting out again. This time, however, Tsegay was too close to her, leading to contact and the fall. 

QT: The officials got this one correct. Gudaf Tsegay should not have been DQ’d for taking Hassan out from behind.

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Normally when a runner battling for the win gets taken out from behind, the person who took them out is DQ’d. And make no mistake about it, Tsegay definitely bumped Hassan. If Hassan had held her line in lane 1 and the same contact had happened, we’d be tempted to DQ Tsegay. But that’s not what happened. Hassan veered out into lane 2 and was also throwing her elbows wide. At some point, Tsegay has a right to try to get to the finish line. What is she supposed to do, run out into lane 4 to finish? Hassan was breaking the rules and ended up falling as a result.

If World Athletics wants to clean this up moving forward, they should issue a simple edict: “If you have the lead coming off the turn and run outside of lane 1 to push someone wide, you are DQ’d.” Now that might kill some of the drama of homestretch battles as it’s kind of fun when people do drift wide as it opens up the inside pass.

Hassan admitted after the race she was definitely going wide to try to make Tsegay run even wider.

“I think I’m kind of trying to make her work hard. You know, this is just a game. Sports is game. And I think she just maybe was not happy about it and we touched each other – it is what it is,” said Hassan. 

When we asked Hassan if she was worried she might be DQ’d for drifting wide, Hassan responded. “No, because if you are in the front you can do whatever you want. You have to go around me. Even if I were disqualified, I don’t mind. If that happened, I’d say, ‘Oh okay, I’m learning.’ And I’m also grateful as three months ago, I won the London Marathon.”

QT: It’s pretty wild that the two biggest 10ks of 2023 both ended with dramatic late falls

Six months ago in Australia, Letesenbet Gidey was leading the World Cross Country Championships with 30 meters to go but fell to the ground as Beatrice Chebet stormed by her. Tonight, Hassan was 30 meters away from a world title on the track but felt the heat from Tsegay and collapsed. Sometimes, the difference between a perfectly-timed kick and lying on the ground 30 meters from the finish line are fine indeed.

QT: Tsegay was brilliant and says she wanted to triple but the Ethiopian federation prevented her from doing it

Hassan, with her 3:51 1500 pb, used to be able to count on outkicking everyone in the 10,000 meters. No longer. Hassan was incredible tonight, but women’s distance running is in the midst of a golden generation with Hassan, Tsegay, Gidey, and Faith Kipyegon. Whether it’s a combination of Hassan being a little bit older or Tsegay improving – she’s a 3:53 1500 runner herself and in the shape of her life right now – Tsegay was able to take her down tonight thanks to a superb 59.01 last lap.

After the race, Tsegay revealed that she had asked the Ethiopian federation to do the same as Hassan – run the 1500, 5k, and 10k in Budapest. Tsegay is the Ethiopian leader this year in the 1500 and 10k and has the bye as defending champ in the 10k, so it was not a crazy request. But unlike the Netherlands, Ethiopia has three other medal contenders in the 1500 and chose not to enter Tsegay in that event.

We asked Tsegay whether a win in the 5k in Budapest would convince the federation to let her run all three next year at the Olympics. She said it could happen if she’s in shape but she would respect the federation’s decision.

“It’s a competition where you are representing your country,” Tsegay said through a translator. “It’s not being selfish or you want to choose to run all the distances because you feel that way. First I have to be in the right condition to run those three races, second, the federation has to decide I am able to run those three events. But for me, if I’m the right person at that time to do it, I will be happy to do it.”

QT: Did Hassan cost herself the win by waiting too long to move up?

350m to go

Hassan likes to run near the back of packs – after four laps, Hassan was in 21st place and gapped by the main pack despite a 5:36 opening 1600. But running in the back also means you have to pass a lot of people, and with 500 meters to go tonight, Hassan was only in 9th place. Hassan was able to work herself into the lead by running her next 300 in 44.80 but to do that, she had to use a lot of energy weaving around athletes. 

She also spotted Tsegay .56 of a second at the bell. In a tactical race, it’s really important to get in position before the kicking starts. To beat Tsegay tonight, Hassan would have had to have closed in 58.44 or better, likely with some extra distance included since she was only 6th at the bell. Even for a runner as great as Hassan, that’s hard to do.

Letesenbet Gidey’s consistency in this event is impressive

Gidey was not able to replicate her gold medal from a year ago, but she racked up another medal with her second-place finish. Gidey has now gone silver-bronze-gold-silver in the last four global 10k championships, and she’s still only 25 years old.

Alicia Monson was pumped to have finished 5th

Each of the last two years, Alicia Monson had only finished 13th in the 10,000 at the Olympics/Worlds. When Monson left the Eugene track last year, she was very disappointed as she said she knew she was much better than that. Tonight, the result was about as good as Monson could have possibly have hoped for: 5th (though she was only .10 from 4th). She was thrilled with the result and said she hopes to medal in 2024.

Monson told us she was fine with not pushing the pace when it went out slow. She said her speed has really improved recently and she’s happy with her kick, particularly after running a 59-second 400 at the end of a recent workout. She said her goal tonight was to be with the leaders at the bell and she most definitely accomplished that.

Elise Cranny was feeling great and said she’s in the shape of her life and doesn’t know what went wrong

At 8k, Elise Cranny was running in the back of the lead pack with Hassan, hugging the rail, saving ground.. Given the slow early pace and Cranny’s ferocious kick, we were thinking this was the ideal type of race for Cranny to steal a medal. Cranny herself said she thought the same thing during the race and said she was feeling great. But suddenly, she was dropped. Cranny has no idea what happened and making it all the more confusing is she says she’s in the shape of her life.

It definitely was a missed opportunity for Cranny tonight. Consider this stat. At USAs, she closed a 32:12.30 race in 4:30.20 and beat Alicia Monson by 5.21 seconds – with all of that margin of victory coming in the final 400.

Tonight, Gudaf Tsegay closed her final mile in 4:36.63 and beat Monson by 5.18 seconds.

Gudaf Tsegay At Worlds
Final Time: 31:27.18
Final 1600: 4:36.63
Final 400: 59.01
Margin of victory over Monson: 5.18 seconds
Elise Cranny At USAs
Final Time: 32:12.30
Final 1600: 4:30.22
Final 400: 62.20
Margin of victory over Monson: 5.21 seconds

Natasha Rogers felt she was capable of more than 14th place

While Rogers improved her finish by one place from last year, she was emotional after this one because she felt she is a much better runner right now than she showed tonight. Rogers didn’t know quite what was wrong but said she didn’t respond well when the pace began to pick up.

“I’m definitely better than that,” Rogers said. “It wasn’t there today mentally, I think, and that’s just how it goes sometimes…I’m going to shake this off and come back strong in the 5k. I’m gonna be hungry, as hungry as I can be.”

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