Phenomenal debut from Dutch woman as she claims victory in 2:18:33 in a women’s race packed with incident
Sifan Hassan stormed to one of the most extraordinary victories in the history of the London Marathon on Sunday (April 23). In an action-packed debut at the distance the 30-year-old sprinted home in 2:18:33. During an emotional and physical rollercoaster, she stopped briefly earlier in the race to stretch a tight hip flexor and yet battled back to enjoy a remarkable win. “I was born for drama,” she said.
The challenges began for the Olympic 5000m and 10,000m champion during her build-up due to fasting during Ramadan. It meant she was hardly able to practice drinking during long runs in training. “That’s why I didn’t have confidence with the drinks,” she said.
Indeed, Hassan weaved around the road at some of the water stations – almost colliding with one of the lead motorbikes at 24 miles – and tried to offer her drinks to rivals. It was very unorthodox, but more of a problem was a hip issue which caused her to stop.
In the run-up to the event she had said: “Sometimes I wake up and think: ‘Why the hell am I running a marathon?’” Those fears seemed to be coming to fruition, too, but she did not lose her composure despite falling around half a minute behind the leaders.
It was a race full of incident right from the start when Brigid Kosgei, the world record-holder, dropped out after only three minutes worth of running. Following this the runners cruised through 5km in 16:13, five miles in 26:08 and 10km in 32:37 with Hassan toward the back of the lead group and not looking particularly comfortable.
At this stage four pacemakers led Peres Jepchirchir, Genzebe Dibaba, Judith Korir, Sheila Chepkirui, Alemu Mergertu, Tedu Teshome, Almaz Ayana, Yalemzerf Yehualaw, Sutume Kebede and Hassan. Notably, none of the feared disruptions from environmental protestors were materialising either.
After one hour of running, though, Hassan dramatically pulled up holding her leg and then stopping to stretch it as the leaders pushed on. Halfway was reached in 68:29 with Hassan 11 seconds behind in ninth place.
Into the second half of the race some of the big names began to suffer as well with Ayana, who won in Amsterdam so impressively last autumn, dropping out of contention. After briefly flirting with the idea of dropping out at 25km, Hassan was almost back with the leaders by 30km, but only four remained at this point – Olympic gold medallist Jepchirchir, reigning London champion Yehualaw, Korir and Chepkirui, the latter of whom switched from Boston to London this month after failing to get a US visa.
Mary Keitany’s women-only world record of 2:17:01 was in danger but the lead quartet began to slow a bit. With Hassan building momentum, this helped to allow the Dutch athlete to catch up and at two hours she rejoined the leaders.
Racing with a nifty green Nike apparel and a glucose monitor attached to her left arm, Hassan now had the grit between her teeth as she began a brilliant late-race move. To viewers it looked like the marathon equivalent of Muhammad Ali’s famous rope-a-dope tactics with Hassan seemingly out of the race but then rallying at the point that really matters – the final 10km.
With less than two miles left Hassan again veered suddenly from one side of the road to the other to grab a drink and then tried to hand it to one of her rivals. Soon after Megertu, who was third in London last October, had enough and threw in a surge, but this only served to get rid of her fellow Ethiopian and 2022 winner Yehualaw.
Soon afterwards Chepkirui began to suffer and as the runners approached the final turn into the finish Megertu and Jepchirchir led from Hassan. As world mile record-holder and Olympic bronze medallist at 1500m, surely Hassan could not lose?
So it proved as she kicked clear and even had time to celebrate as she sped down The Mall. Inside the media area at the finish the press ranks broke tradition by letting out a spontaneous applause. At this stage, of course, most neutral fans wanted the Dutch athlete to win.
“It was really amazing. I can’t believe it,” she said breathlessly after such a memorable debut.
Megertu finished a gallant runner-up in 2:18:37 with Jepchirchir third in 2:18:38, Chepkirui fourth in 2:18:51 and Yehualaw fifth in 2:18:53.
Korir wound up sixth in 2:20:41, Ayana seventh in 2:20:44 and Teshome eighth in 2:21:31.
First Brit was Sam Harrison in an impressive 2:25:59 after having passed halfway in 72:00. Eilish McColgan, of course, withdrew on the eve of the race but it would have been fascinating to see how she would have fared.
Hassan delighted fans with her exuberant post-race interviews and said: “To even watch London is one of my dreams. So to finish the race and also win it, I am so grateful. I can never forget this.”
She added: “They told me it would really hurt after 35km, but I felt better after 35km. When I saw the finish line I thought, ‘is this really the finish line?’”
Will Hassan run the marathon at the World Championships this summer? Probably not. Her next outing over 26.2 miles is likely to be in the autumn.
“Budapest is my dream and so I didn’t do much marathon training because of this,” said Hassan, insisting her track races in August have been her priority.
So given her amazing debut experience, what would her advice be to other first-time marathon runners?
“Learn to be patient and run own race,” she said, “and if you keep going then you might surprise yourself.”
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