For a fleeting moment on Monday, Britain’s Laura Muir might have fancied that her prospects of all those years of work translating into Olympic 1500m gold had improved when her rival Sifan Hassan stumbled and fell in her heat with only a lap to go.
What ensued was a reminder gold may need divine intervention, as well the run of Muir’s life.
Hassan clambered up from the track and calmly proceeded to reel in each of the 11 women who had been striding away from her before winning the race.
Women’s 1500m heavy favourite Sifan Hassan fell in her heat – and still managed to finish first
The impressive comeback highlights the size of the task facing British challenger Laura Muir
The 28-year-old’s work was by no means done. She later won gold in the women’s 5,000m — breaking for the front on the back straight of the last lap — and an extraordinary treble of 1500m, 5,000m and 10,000m that she has set herself remains on. That would mean six distance races in eight days in Tokyo’s sultry midsummer heat.
Hassan and Muir will start in adjacent lanes in the 1500m semi-final, with the final on Friday. There will be pleasantries.
But the Dutch runner is perfectly aware of the doubts that Muir – and many in athletics – have harboured about her after her three years with Alberto Salazar, who was banned for doping violations in 2019.
She began working with Salazar after a very modest 2016 Rio Olympics. When she produced a performance for the ages to win the 1500m at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Muir said the association tainted the achievement.
‘I think there is a cloud,’ the Scot said. ‘There’s no avoiding that. But all you can do is focus on your performances.’
Hassan also won the 10,000m in Doha, having run the race competitively just once before.
Hassan’s achievements are tainted somewhat by her past association with Alberto Salazar
But she insisted she was angered by the insinuations, ran clean, and had been a high-class athlete before she joined Salazar. She continued to perform at the top level after his suspension.
No woman has attempted the trio of golds for which she is aiming. Finn Paavo Nurmi went for four at Paris 1924, though after he had run 1500m, 5,000m and 3,000m, team officials refused to let him compete in the 10,000m as they feared for his health.
Czechoslovakia’s Emil Zatopek won the 5,000m, 10,000m and marathon in the space of eight days at the 1952 Games.
Muir has had doubts about whether Hassan’s amazing performances can be considered clean
Muir was second in her heat yesterday, with a fast last lap. ‘It didn’t feel that fast, so that’s good,’ she said.
‘I just wanted to qualify for the next round as comfortably as possible, so that felt really good out there.’
Katie Snowden ran a personal best to make the first of tomorrow’s semi-finals.
Hassan shot to stardom in 2019 as she won 1500m and 10,000m world championship gold
‘I couldn’t believe it,’ she said. ‘If someone had said I would run a PB in the heat, I wouldn’t believe it.
‘I know I am in really good shape, but with the start time and first round, it’s always a bit nerve-wracking. I didn’t think I could be that quick so early.’
Hassan, who left Ethiopia as a refugee and settled in the Netherlands in 2008, said the day had defied her expectations.
Muir is joined in the semi-finals by fellow Briton Katie Snowden after she ran a new best time
‘I can’t believe it,’ she said. ‘I used all my energy in the heat. It was terrible when I tripped. I thought I was never going to be Olympic champion.
‘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 5,000m final, I didn’t even care. I was so tired. Without coffee I would never be Olympic champion. I needed all the caffeine. I was so scared I wasn’t going to do it.’