Before marathon triumph, Sifan Hassan already had Olympic legend on her mind

Sifan Hassan

Sifan Hassan, already an Olympic legend on the track, spent early Sunday morning in London crying and vomiting at the prospect of running 26.2 miles on the roads. By midday, she had not just accomplished her goal of finishing her first marathon, but she won it.

Since, Hassan has been highlighted on news programs and front pages around the world. The track star who said publicly that she was scared of the marathon, signed up anyway and won despite stopping multiple times to stretch her left leg (that she forgot to tape up that morning) and nearly getting run over by a motorbike in a dash to a drinks table late in the race.

Hassan had not practiced grabbing water bottles on long runs in the last month of her training, because she was observing Ramadan, which calls for abstaining from food and water from dawn until dusk.

The logical follow-up question: what’s next?

“We have to keep her focused on one thing at a time, but that’s impossible with her,” her American coach, Tim Rowberry, told Dutch broadcaster NOS while Hassan did the press rounds on Sunday. “Whatever makes her excited, I try to help her chase after that and try to balance everything at once.”

Rowberry said that, before Sunday’s race, he and Hassan discussed a man who ran the 5000m, 10,000m and marathon at one Olympics.

Rowberry couldn’t remember the athlete’s name off the top of his head, but he was presumably referring to Emil Zátopek, the Czech who won the 5000m, 10,000m and marathon in an eight-day stretch at the 1952 Helsinki Games.

Sixteen others ran those three distances at one Olympics (all men and the last in 1984), according to Bill Mallon of, but Zátopek remains the lone one to earn a medal in all three at one Games, the three longest running events on the program.

The 2024 Paris Olympic schedule:

Aug. 2: 5000m heats
Aug. 5: 5000m final
Aug. 6: 1500m heats
Aug. 8: 1500m semifinals
Aug. 9: 10,000m final
Aug. 10: 1500m final
Aug. 11: Marathon

“I guess that’s what’s important is that we think that’s possible to do 5K, 10K, marathon, but she loves the 1500m, she loves other races, and I don’t see her trying to give that up, either,” said Rowberry, who once sang with the Smashing Pumpkins on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno. “So it’s going to be a really big question, and we might make it the same as Tokyo where we have to make a decision at the last moment.”

Two years ago, Hassan waited until after her first race of the Tokyo Olympics — a 5000m heat — to publicly say that she planned to contest the 1500, 5000m and 10,000m at those Games.

“For me it is crucial to follow my heart,” she said in a press release announcing that decision. “Doing that is far more important than gold medals.”

Over nine days in Tokyo, Hassan raced six times combining heats and finals, totaling 24,500 meters (just over 15 miles).

She won the 5000m and 10,000m and in between took bronze in the 1500m, becoming the second woman to earn a medal in three individual track races at one Olympics. The other was also a Dutchwoman: Fanny Blankers-Koen, who won the 100m, 200m and the 80m hurdles in 1948.

Hassan also pulled off an unprecedented feat in 2019. She became the first person to win the 1500m and the 10,000m at one world championships. The 1500m and the 5000m overlapped, and she chose the shorter distance, which created the unique double.

The month after those worlds, she finished second in a half marathon.

Hassan, born in Ethiopia, came to the Netherlands as a 15-year-old refugee in 2008. She has preferred not to speak about her childhood in Ethiopia.

She joined a local running club to meet people in her new country, though she had little experience with the sport, and began signing up for local races. An early coach said she “was not anything special” until 2013, the year she obtained Dutch citizenship. By 2014, she was ranked No. 1 in the world in the 1500m.

Now 30 years old, Hassan has become one of the greatest distance runners in history, and arguably the most versatile at the highest level.

She plans to return to the track for August’s world championships in Budapest. Rowberry said that Hassan will definitely run at least one track race at the 2024 Paris Olympics. Beyond that, he couldn’t predict.

“I love the marathon. I love the track also,” Hassan said Sunday afternoon. “I want to be everywhere.”

She did not mention Zátopek or chasing any more history in 2024. She was satisfied having accomplished her goal on that day: running 26.2 miles.

“I don’t need to become the greatest,” she said. “I’m fine the way I am.”

NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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At the French Open, a Ukrainian mom makes her comeback

Elina Svitolina French Open

Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, once the world’s third-ranked tennis player, is into the French Open third round in her first major tournament since childbirth.

Svitolina, 28, swept 2022 French Open semifinalist Martina Trevisan of Italy, then beat Australian qualifier Storm Hunter 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 to reach the last 32 at Roland Garros. She next plays 56th-ranked Russian Anna Blinkova, who took out the top French player, fifth seed Caroline Garcia, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 on her ninth match point.

Svitolina’s husband, French player Gael Monfils, finished his first-round five-set win after midnight on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. She watched that match on a computer before going to sleep ahead of her 11 a.m. start Wednesday.

“This morning, he told me, ‘I’m coming to your match, so make it worth it,'” she joked on Tennis Channel. “I was like, OK, no pressure.

“I don’t know what he’s doing here now. He should be resting.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Svitolina made at least one major quarterfinal every year from 2017 through 2021, including the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2019. She married Monfils one week before the Tokyo Olympics, then won a singles bronze medal.

Svitolina played her last match before maternity leave on March 24, 2022, one month after Russia invaded her country. She gave birth to daughter Skai on Oct. 15.

Svitolina returned to competition in April. Last week, she won the tournament preceding the French Open, sweeping Blinkova to improve to 17-3 in her career in finals. She’s playing on a protected ranking of 27th after her year absence and, now, on a seven-match win streak.

“It was always in my head the plan to come back, but I didn’t put any pressure on myself, because obviously with the war going on, with the pregnancy, you never know how complicated it will go,” she said. “I’m as strong as I was before, maybe even stronger, because I feel that I can handle the work that I do off the court, and match by match I’m getting better. Also mentally, because mental can influence your physicality, as well.”

Svitolina said she’s motivated by goals to attain before she retires from the sport and to help Ukraine, such as donating her prize money from last week’s title in Strasbourg.

“These moments bring joy to people of Ukraine, to the kids as well, the kids who loved to play tennis before the war, and now maybe they don’t have the opportunity,” she said. “But these moments that can motivate them to look on the bright side and see these good moments and enjoy themselves as much as they can in this horrible situation.”

Svitolina was born in Odesa and has lived in Kharkiv, two cities that have been attacked by Russia.

“I talk a lot with my friends, with my family back in Ukraine, and it’s a horrible thing, but they are used to it now,” she said. “They are used to the alarms that are on. As soon as they hear something, they go to the bomb shelters. Sleepless nights. You know, it’s a terrible thing, but they tell me that now it’s a part of their life, which is very, very sad.”

Svitolina noted that she plays with a flag next to her name — unlike the Russians and Belarusians, who are allowed to play as neutral athletes.

“When I step on the court, I just try to think about the fighting spirit that all of us Ukrainians have and how Ukrainians are fighting for their values, for their freedom in Ukraine,” she said, “and me, I’m fighting here on my own front line.”

Svitolina said that she’s noticed “a lot of rubbish” concerning how tennis is reacting to the war.

“We have to focus on what the main point of what is going on,” she said. “Ukrainian people need help and need support. We are focusing on so many things like empty words, empty things that are not helping the situation, not helping anything.

“I want to invite everyone to focus on helping Ukrainians. That’s the main point of this, to help kids, to help women who lost their husbands because they are at the war, and they are fighting for Ukraine.

“You can donate. Couple of dollars might help and save lives. Or donate your time to something to help people.”

Also Wednesday, 108th-ranked Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis ousted three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3 in four and a half hours. Wawrinka’s exit leaves Novak Djokovic as the lone man in the draw who has won the French Open and Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz as the lone men left who have won any major.

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Marcell Jacobs still sidelined, misses another race with Fred Kerley

Marcell Jacobs

Olympic 100m champion Marcell Jacobs of Italy will miss another scheduled clash with world 100m champion Fred Kerley, withdrawing from Friday’s Diamond League meet in Florence.

Jacobs, 28, has not recovered from the nerve pain that forced him out of last Sunday’s Diamond League meet in Rabat, Morocco, according to Italy’s track and field federation.

In his absence, Kerley’s top competition will be fellow American Trayvon Bromell, the world bronze medalist, and Kenyan Ferdinand Omanyala, the world’s fastest man this year at 9.84 seconds. Kerley beat both of them in Rabat.

The Florence Diamond League airs live on Peacock on Friday from 2-4 p.m. ET.

Jacobs has withdrawn from six scheduled head-to-heads with Kerley dating to May 2022 due to a series of health issues since that surprise gold in Tokyo.

Kerley, primarily a 400m sprinter until the Tokyo Olympic year, became the world’s fastest man in Jacobs’ absence. He ran a personal best 9.76 seconds, the world’s best time of 2022, at last June’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Then he led a U.S. sweep of the medals at July’s worlds.

Jacobs’ next scheduled race is a 100m at the Paris Diamond League on June 9. Kerley is not in that field, but world 200m champion Noah Lyles is.

The last time the reigning Olympic and world men’s 100m champions met in a 100m was the 2012 London Olympic final between Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake. From 2013 to 2017, Bolt held both titles, then retired in 2017 while remaining reigning Olympic champion until Jacobs’ win in Tokyo, where Kerley took silver.

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