On April 23, 2023, Sifan Hassan made history, winning the London Marathon in her debut marathon. The truth is this: the 2023 London field was one of the toughest ever assembled in race history. Hassan used a unique method to win, and that makes sense, as she is a unique athlete. 

Stuart Weir wrote this piece on Sifan just after the marathon. I missed it, but I think it even resonates now more than in the week after the race. Sifan Hassan is expected to compete in Budapest 2023 and Paris 2024; just what will she do in both? 

Sifan Hassan adds another title.

Just days after Hellen Obiri won the Boston Marathon, Sifan Hassan, another “track” athlete, won London.  With world-record holder Brigid Kosgei, Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir, previous London champion Yalamzerf Yehualaw plus the peerless Genzebe Dibaba in the field, the annual claim to have assembled the strongest field ever seemed justified this year.  

Sifan Hassan (NED) reacts as she crosses the finish line on The Mall to win the Elite Women’s race at The TCS London Marathon on Sunday 23rd April 2023.
Photo: Bob Martin for London Marathon Events
©TCS London Marathon

Hassan did not run the classic marathon race, stopping twice to stretch her left leg during the first half of the race.  She dropped 20 seconds off the lead but gradually made up the distance to win by 4 seconds from Alemu Megertu. 

Hassan commented afterward: “I have no words. My leg was bothering me; I had a hip problem a week ago. I forgot to tape it this morning. I stopped and stretched, and they disappeared, but I started feeling good after 10K. I can’t believe I’ve finished, let alone won. I can’t believe I’ve finished a marathon. I was so scared for the marathon. I put a lot of pressure on myself. I’m so stupid to play this kind of game. What was I thinking, running a marathon? I never cry, but this morning I was crying!”

Sifan Hassan (NED), winner of the Elite Women’s race, and Kelvin Kiptum (KEN), winner of the Elite Men’s race, pose with the Chris Brasher Memorial Trophy on the podium on The Mall at The TCS London Marathon on Sunday 23rd April 2023.
Photo: Andrew Baker for London Marathon Events
©TCS London Marathon

Her preparation has also not been classical with the requirement to observe the Muslim fast during Ramadan.  She was quoted in The Times before the race, “With fasting for the whole month, I don’t know what that’s going to do to my body”.

There is a poignant human story behind her, arriving in the Netherlands as a refugee from Ethiopia in her teens, living in a children’s home.  It needs to be mentioned that her later association with the now disgraced Alberto Salazar raised eyebrows.  But it also must be said that Hassan has never been shown guilty of any personal wrongdoing.  It also should be said that Hassan is not another African running for a European country as the flag of convenience.  She has lived in the Netherlands for 15 years, has been a Dutch citizen for 10, and speaks the language.  She is an impressive human being who has overcome great difficulties and triumphed.

Sifan Hassan, TCS London Marathon
London, England, United Kingdom
April 23, 2023, photo by Kevin Morris

While I have watched her run many times, I cannot say that I know her personally.  But I’ve certainly admired her from afar.  She won bronze medals at the 2015 (1500m) and 2017 (5000m) World Championships.  At the 2019 Doha World Championship, she completed an impressive, if somewhat unusual, double by winning the 1500m and the 10,000m.

The bell lap begins, Hassan, Tsegay, Women’s 5,000 meters, World Athletics Championships
Eugene, Oregon, USA
July 15-26, 2022, photo by Kevin Morris

Not content with that, she went for the triple at the Tokyo Olympics.  That involved running a prelim of the 1500m on the morning of the evening 5000m final.  The plan had been for a runner of her talent to ease through the 1500 prelim using as little as possible energy.  The plan worked well until she tripped at the start of the final lap, picked herself up, closed the gap, and qualified for the next round before taking gold that evening in the 5000m. 

Sifan Hassan speaking with the coach, Tokyo 2021, photo by Stuart Weir

She summed up her day: “I can’t believe it. I used all my energy this morning, and I was kind of tired. I couldn’t believe what happened. It was terrible when I tripped. I felt terrible afterward and never thought I would be the Olympic champion. “It has been an amazing day. When I fell down and had to jump up, I felt like I was using so much energy. I couldn’t believe the feelings in my legs. All the energy seemed to leave me. Before the race here, I didn’t even care. I was so tired. I was so scared I wasn’t going to do it.”

Sifan Hassan, 2021 Diamond League photo by Diamond League AG

In Tokyo, she had won the 10K and the 5K and taken bronze in the 1500! Being in Tokyo in the midst of Covid was a great privilege.  Being in the stadium to see that amazing 1500m prelim was close to the highlight of the Games.

Sifan Hassan, Doha 2019, photo by World Athletics

RunBlogRun can now reveal her secret.  She said in Tokyo: “Without coffee, I would never be an Olympic champion. I needed all the caffeine”.

Forget all your training blogs, Larry.  Just tell them to drink coffee!   

Sifan Hassan, photo by global communications