FOR two years ago, one of athletics’ most controversial names, Sifan Hassan, ran 10,000 meters for the very first time. It was completed on 31.18,12, and was a real nuisance:
– It was sooo boring. But here I am, said the 1500 meter specialist Hassan to tell that she would now become a long-distance runner.
The time was no more than 14 seconds faster than what Therese Johaug achieved at Bislett a few weeks ago, but during these two years, 28-year-old Sifan has managed to become world champion in the distance. As well as deleting a world record you’d rather not break.
Last weekend she ran 10,000 meters on an insane 29.06.82. It is a narrow long side ahead of the old record set by Ethiopian Almaz Ayana in the 2016 Olympics; about the same as the distance between Sifan Hassan and Therese Johaug just two years ago.
So now Sifan runs this distance two laps faster than the fitness phenomenon Therese Johaug. And then you have to follow:
In the 2016 Olympic final, Almaz Ayana broke Wang Junxia’s ancient doping record; the Chinese runner who in the early 1990s explained that she ran so fast thanks to turtle blood; but who later admitted that most of it was due to a systematic Chinese doping scheme.
After the winning race, Ayana quickly disappeared from the global athletics scene. She was never close to repeating her super race.
So how can Sifan Hassan manage to run from these two previously suspicious records without even getting a ruined reputation?
MAYBE using new shoes. During Sunday’s record run in Hengelo, Sifan Hassan used the innovation Nike ZoomX Dragonfly. These track shoes have a carbon plate and a foam mixture that obviously works.
Last autumn, extremely strong records were set with this type of shoe during a competition in Valencia with running light signals. Then Ethiopian Letesenbet Gidey lowered the 5000-meter record by four seconds to 14.06.62, while Joshua Cheptegei, the world champion from Uganda, with an impressive 26.11.00 broke the 10 5000-meter record to Kenenisa Bekele from 2005.
Suddenly, it runs faster than ever on long distances after a few years where better doping control seemed to slow down the development. Last night, Letesenbet Gidey got to try her hand at the same course as Hassan in Hengelo, and pushed the 10,000 meter record further down to 29.01.03. It was a personal improvement of 1 minute and 20 seconds by the 23-year-old Ethiopian.
Much of Sifan and others’ sensational development is undoubtedly shoe technology that the sport must consider further. Whether it is true that footwear should mean so much in an athletics that has traditionally been spared equipment hysteria.
But is there something else behind the times of Sifan Hassan?
ATHLETICS is itself to blame for such questions being raised. And here Sifan certainly does not make it easy for himself.
After coming from Ethiopia to the Netherlands as a lone refugee at the age of 15, she eventually joined athletics. Young Sifan was a very talented middle distance runner, and won 1500 meters in the European Championships already in 2014.
Then the progress stopped. In the Rio Olympics, she finished fifth in the distance, and broke directly with the Dutch training environment. Before Christmas that year, Sifan went to the controversial Nike Oregon Project and became a student of the very experimental Alberto Salazar.
UNDER Salazar’s leadership saw marked progress again. In the last World Athletics Championships, Sifan Hassan became the first athlete to ever win both the 1500 meters and the 10,000 meters in the same championship.
But in the midst of that Doha championship, Salazar was banned from all sports for four years for doping-related training:
– This has been a tough week for me and I’m very angry, she said after the 1500-meter gold where the journalists were more interested in what Salazar and she had been doing than the winning race itself:
– I’m completely clean. I’ve only trained hard all my life. It’s just testing me every single day, assured Sifan.
THE with hard training there is no doubt. During the work of making Sifan a long-distance runner, her body was changed. She became thinner and far more marked; which possibly reflects the diuretic medication in the gray and black zone that Salazar pursued for years.
Plus all the crazy stuff that comes with being the world’s best 10,000-meter runner in just two years. And that in a training environment that was known for breaking most common human boundaries to achieve results:
– She trains extremely hard. Apart from Mo Farah and Galen Rupp, I have never seen anything like it. Maybe she pushes herself even harder than them, Salazar said when he was still heard as a coaching legend and not as a scammer:
– Purely routinely, she throws up midway through the sessions. Then she can vomit four or five more times, and say “let’s get started on the next move”. She’s very tough.
MEN Sifan Hassan was not tough enough to stay away from controversial environments like the one around Alberto Salazar. When she went to the USA, the Nike Oregon Project was already under a much-publicized investigation. This is what her critics pointed out when she complained about negative attention around the World Cup golds in Doha:
– She chose to go to the Oregon Project herself. Maybe she thought it was okay to leave because the investigation had not succeeded. Now it has done so. Then she must understand that this sticks to her, in Michael Johnson; the legendary American 400 meter runner who has long fought against doping in his sport.
– People are so tired of all this scam. They have zero tolerance, Johnson continued in a BBC interview, warning the athletics stars of the consequences:
– If you use a banned trainer, people are done with you. That’s just the way it is, and practitioners need to understand that. It does not stop to get angry. You must show that you are clean.
THE the warning has not reached Sifan Hassan. A few months after the World Cup, she chose to move on with the old environment as if nothing had changed. Since Salazar has been banned pending an appeal to the Sports Arbitration Board (CAS), she is now training with his former assistant.
And she stays for long periods in Ethiopia; a country notorious for a very unreliable doping control. During the pandemic, Hassan prepared for the Olympics five months in his former home country.
THE It is not surprising that Ethiopian athletes dominate the long distances in athletics. It is culturally conditioned. In the same way that Norwegians, due to the everyday winter tradition, are best at cross-country skiing. This is how it is almost understandable that technically good Sifa distances the training phenomenon Therese Johaug by two rounds of 10,000 meters in just two years. Or that a young Ethiopian long-distance star like Letesenbet Gidey is fast enough to respond directly to the new record now in the middle of a shoe revolution.
The point is that athletes regardless of nation in all doping-exposed sports need to have credible control.
If not, they are exposed when they play with old drug records. As Sifan Hassan now approaches a half-round lead also on the notorious doper Wang Junxia.
And an Olympic start in Tokyo under even more suspicion.