How Sifan Hassan Accidentally Won The London Marathon

By Kyle Merber

April 26, 2023

While the best runners in the world are all clearly talented, every once in a while you see something that reminds you that even at the top of the heap, there’s a range of ability levels. In 2019 we got our first true glimpse of the Sifan Hassan show, and even compared to the cream of the crop, she was just built different. Winning double gold happens on occasion, but it’s extremely rare to do so in events as far apart as the 1500 and 10,000m.

The tools one must simultaneously possess to run 3:51.95 in a third round of a championship to out kick Faith Kipyegon are vastly different from the aerobic strength required to run away from Letesenebet Gidey in a 10,000m. In one fell swoop, Hassan defeated the biggest and baddest final bosses on their respective home turf.

But things got even crazier in Tokyo when she strolled into the Olympic Games with the chutzpah of a D1 recruit being forced to use a high school dual meet as a workout. Although Hassan walked away with two gold medals from the 5,000 and 10,000, and a bronze at 1500, the most viral moment of her career – up til now – followed after a fall with 400m to go in the semi-final. You almost certainly know how it ends, but it’s worth the 60 seconds to watch it again.

If nothing else, it’s a good reminder that if anyone can come to a complete stop in against the best in the world and still pull off a win, it’s Sifan Hassan. Before the race Hassan was a quote machine designed to throw any potential bookmakers off her scent. She had made it quite clear that this was not a permanent move up in distance and that training for 26.2 was not to interfere with her summer track plans.

“It is my first marathon so I can’t really say how I will do. I don’t have a time in mind, or a place. I just want to finish the race and see what happens.”

Not exactly the sort of calm confidence you would expect from the reigning Olympic 10,000m champion. Maybe it was the fact that she had been running 120 mile weeks during long periods of fasting for Ramadan. Or that the London Marathon was being touted as the deepest women’s field ever assembled, with the likes of Brigid Kosgei (who would drop out in the first few minutes), the Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir, and the defending champion Yalemzerf Yehualaw all headlining.

Halfway into the race, as the leaders came through in 1:08:29, Hassan was about 50 meters behind as she had stopped to stretch her quads multiple times. Generally, that would be the death knell for a successful marathon But in this case, it gives the rest of us plebes permission to do something similar. Need to walk to get down some water at mile 20? Don’t be a tough guy! If Siffan Hassan can stop for a stretch and still earn her 26.2 bumper sticker, then so can you.

Despite falling as far as 25 seconds behind the lead group, Hassan clawed her back as they unknowingly took their feet too far off the gas pedal. With less than two miles to go and on the wrong side of the road, Hassan took a sharp right turn and b-lined it to the drinks station. She then casually offered a sip to Yehualaw – kill ‘em with kindness, I guess!

As the contenders came around Buckingham Palace, everyone who used a VPN to watch the race was on the edge of our seats (okay, I was half asleep in bed), contemplating the advantages of owning a 1:56 800m personal best in a final sprint. And to much surprise, but also none at all, Sifan Hassan won the London Marathon in 2:18:33.

The most endearing aspect of Sifan’s race is how seemingly human she came across despite achieving something that is so far from ordinary. Her glee and disbelief in her post-race interview were so charming and relatable, and this effort will likely turn her into a bigger cult hero than any on-track medal ever could.

"I’m so stupid. Why am I playing this kind of game? Why the hell am I thinking that I want to run a marathon? What is wrong with me?"'

That’d make a good coffee mug.

Kyle Merber

After hanging up his spikes – but never his running shoes – Kyle pivoted to the media side of things, where he shares his enthusiasm, insights, and experiences with subscribers of The Lap Count newsletter, as well as viewers of CITIUS MAG live shows.