Sifan Hassan will be watching the clock at the next IAAF Diamond League meeting in Glasgow on Friday night after admitting that she had her mind on other things during the 1500m in Paris on Saturday night, despite coming home in an outstanding Dutch record of 3:57.00.
She decided to watch her opponents more closely than the infield chronometer but still shaved more than two seconds off her own previous record of 3:59.38, which she recorded at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene just over a month ago, to fly to the top of the 2014 world list.
“Do you know, I had no idea of the time until I crossed the line? I was shocked. I thought to myself just before the bell ‘this is a 4:04 race'. It’s true,” joked Hassan on Sunday, just as she was about to climb into a car which would take her from the French capital to her home in Arnham.
“I wasn’t watching the clock because I was concentrating hard on checking what everyone else in the race was doing. I wasn’t focused on just one person, although going into the race you could say that perhaps Abeba Aregawi or Hellen Obiri would be the ones to watch.
“However, my manager had said to me, ‘stay close to the front’ so that’s what I did and when the American (Jenny Simpson) started to push hard before the bell, I followed her, even though initially I had to spend a lot of energy to get up to her.
“It was Simpson who made it a fast race after the pacemakers dropped out, so I have to be thankful to her, but she was also the reason I had no idea about the time. I was just concentrating on beating her and winning.”
Simpson hit the front with 600m to go as the pacemaker Tamara Tverdostup, who had taken the field through 800m in 2:07.23, stepped to one side. She immediately threw down the gauntlet to the rest of the classy field.
The 2011 1500m world champion, and silver medallist at Moscow 2013, heard the bell in an unofficial 2:55.0, with Hassan two strides behind her, having extracted herself from the tangled pack of runners over the course of the previous 100 metres.
Simpson passed 1200m in 3:10.51, still in front, but she couldn’t keep Hassan at bay for much longer and the Dutch runner moved around her with 280 metres to go and kept on driving all the way to the line, covering the last lap in an unofficial 61.7.
“I also think I can improve a lot more. I’m only 21 so I have many more years in the sport,” added Hassan, who speaks good English as well as Dutch.
Zeroing in on Zurich
The stage is starting to be set for an intriguing battle at the European Championships next month.
Aregawi – who was 10th on Saturday in what was her worst race for several years, having had some stomach problems earlier in the day – won her world titles indoors and outdoors in the past year almost as she pleased, but Hassan has emerged as a creditable challenger to her supremacy.
Further down the line, Hassan would dearly love to also stand on the podium at next year’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships in China.
“I actually think I like cross country slightly more than the track, I feel free when I’m running. It’s far too early to talk about exactly what I’m going to do this winter but I love cross country so I’m thinking about the European Championships (which will be held in Bulgaria this December) and the World Cross Country Championships next year.
“They are important events for me. The Europeans in Belgrade last December was the first championship when I was able to represent Holland (and where she won the under-23 title), and I’ve never raced at a World Cross Country Championships before, so I’m excited by the idea of doing them.
Hassan, despite her Ethiopian heritage, is almost as Dutch as it comes, short of her wearing clogs rather than running shoes.
She arrived in the Netherlands six years ago, in 2008, as a refugee and is discrete about the circumstances, having often said in interviews with the Dutch media that she doesn’t want to talk about why she left Ethiopia.
“That’s history,” or “that’s behind me,” she has often said, although she has admitted that troubled family circumstances were the reason for the move.
However, whatever the issues, running was not on her agenda when she arrived in Europe.
“I had never run before I came to the Netherlands. Yes, I knew about the famous Ethiopian runners but I wasn’t a runner in Ethiopia. I was just thinking about changing my life and doing well at school.”
In a short period of time, she’s changed the record books as well.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF