London Marathon: Sifan Hassan stops twice and dodges bike in dramatic win | London Marathon
Not since Pheidippides ran to Athens has there been a more extraordinary marathon debut than the one made by Sifan Hassan on the streets of London as she defied injury – and nearly being taken out by a motorbike – to claim a shock victory.
“I was born for drama,” the Dutch athlete joked after a thrilling sprint finish. Following this astonishing performance Bafta really should come knocking.
On a day when the Kenyan Kelvin Kiptum powered clear to win the men’s race in 2hr 1min 25sec – the second-fastest time in history and a course record for London – and Mo Farah ended his marathon career, it was Hassan, the Olympic 5,000m and 10,000m champion, who stole the show.
During her storied career on the track, Hassan has been a master of ripping up the record books. En route from Greenwich to the Mall she gave a masterclass in getting away with every rule in the marathon book.
It appeared the most ominous of omens that she was in tears beforehand at the thought of what lay in wait, having decided to eschew traditional marathon training. And those fears appeared to be confirmed when the 14-1 outsider stopped twice to stretch an injured hip. Her face etched in pain, the 30-year-old had slipped 28 seconds behind the leading pack with 11 miles to go and was close to pulling out before a remarkable recovery.
It began slowly, imperceptibly, almost by stealth. But as Hassan’s legs began to whirr again she steadily closed the gap until, with four miles remaining, she was back menacing the leaders – including the Olympic champion, Peres Jepchirchir and the pre‑race favourite, Yalemzerf Yehualaw.
Yet more twists and turns lay ahead. On 24 miles, Hassan suddenly hit the brakes to collect a drink from the opposite side of the road and was nearly taken out by a race motorbike. Then, on the Mall, she held back from delivering her lethal kick as she was unclear where the finish line was.
“When I woke up this morning I was telling myself I was stupid to run a marathon, and what is wrong with me,” Hassan said.“I was so scared I even cried. And when I talked to my manager I asked him: ‘Why am I doing this?’”
Asked if she thought she could win, she shook her head and replied: “No way. I thought I was going to stop somewhere because whenever I tried to speed up it hurt me. But I thought I should get some experience of running a marathon for the next one. Finishing 100% didn’t come into my mind.”
Kenya’s Kelvin Kiptum crosses the finish line to win the elite men’s race, 16 seconds off world-record pace. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian
Hassan also revealed how her close encounter with a motorbike had come about. “I didn’t practise collecting my drinks beforehand because of Ramadan. I was nearly hit but I didn’t care as I wanted to finish the marathon.”
Yet Hassan, who has run 1min 56sec for 800m and holds world records for both the mile on the track and 5km on the road, had more than enough left to deliver the coup de grace. Her time of 2:18:33 was four seconds clear of Ethiopia’s Alemu Megertu, who took second, with Jepchirchir one second further back in third.
Victory also enhances Hassan’s claims to be among the greatest female distance athletes in history – especially given her performance at the Tokyo Olympics, where she became the first athlete to win three medals across 1500m, 5,000m and 10,000m in one Games.
Not that she agrees. “No, no, I’m not the greatest,” she replied. “I’m just OK. And I don’t need to become the greatest. I’m fine the way I am.”
What makes Hassan’s story even more remarkable is that she was born in Ethiopia but moved to the Netherlands aged 15 as a refugee in 2008, where she moved into a shelter for asylum seekers.
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Mo Farah runs past the Houses of Parliament on his farewell London Marathon appearance. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters
When she moved into a house with other asylum seekers, she told her supervisor she would like to run, but only had an old pair of trainers. From there, hers is a complicated story given that she has previously trained at the Nike Oregon Project under Alberto Salazar, who was banned from coaching for life in 2020.
There were also questions raised about Hassan’s shoes afterwards, but the London Marathon confirmed that they were a legally approved Nike AlphaFly 3 prototype.
The men’s race was just as incredible but for different reasons, as the 23-year-old Kiptum kicked away powerfully with eight miles remaining to blow apart a field that included four of the five fastest men in history.
At one point, Eliud Kipchoge’s world record of 2:01:09 looked within his grasp as Kiptum ran the second half of the race in 59:45. However, while it was not to be, it could be only a matter of time before the record is his.
The scale of his victory was evident in the fact that his nearest rival, his fellow Kenyan, Geoffrey Kamworor, was almost three minutes back in 2:04:23, with Ethiopia’s Tamirat Tola in third, a further 36 seconds back.
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And Farah? Well, he was unable to capture the magic of his glory days as he finished ninth in 2:10:28. That made him the third Briton overall, behind the 25‑year‑old Emile Cairess from Bradford, who was sixth in 2:08:07, and Leeds’ Phil Sesemann, who overtook Farah in the final few hundred metres to finish in 2:10:23.
“I gave it my all but my body just wasn’t responding, and that’s when you know it’s time to call it a day,” said Farah, who confirmed he will end his career at the Great North Run in September.