Salazar cloud hangs over steely Hassan’s golden Olympic double

Hassan insists she joined Salazar’s now disbanded Nike-funded Oregon Project in 2016 so she could train with British distance running legend Mo Farah.

Sifan Hassan wins gold in the women’s 10,000m. She leaves Tokyo with a gold in the 5,000m and a bronze in the 1,500m. Picture: @Olympics/Twitter.

TOKYO, JAPAN – Sifan Hassan showed typical resilience in adding 10,000 metres Olympic gold to her 5000m title on Saturday, the night after defeat in the 1500m crushed her dream of an unprecedented treble.

The Ethiopian-born athlete who competes for her adopted country, the Netherlands, bided her time and produced her trademark last-lap kick to accelerate to victory.

In achieving the distance double, she emulated Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba’s feat at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The 28-year-old’s steeliness is reflected in her favourite saying taken from the Koran, as she told Dutch newspaper NRC in January: “For indeed, with hardship will be ease.”

Despite her success at the Tokyo Games, Hassan remains a divisive figure in the world of track and field and questions over her association with disgraced coach Alberto Salazar still dog her.

Hassan did little to make those questions go away when she chose a former assistant of Salazar’s, Tim Rowberry, as her new coach.

Hassan insists she joined Salazar’s now disbanded Nike-funded Oregon Project in 2016 so she could train with British distance running legend Mo Farah.

She says she saw nothing amiss with Salazar, who last month was banned for life by the United States Center for SafeSport for sexual misconduct and emotional misconduct violations.

Salazar was first given a four-year ban during the 2019 world championships in Doha. Hassan duly won the 1500m/10,000m double at those championships.

“The hardest moment and pressure in my life was in Doha and I handled it,” she said in July.

She did not hold back in an emotional press conference after that success, saying: “If they want to test me they can test me every single day. Every single day.

“I believe in the Oregon Project. I’ve seen Alberto. He’s worked really hard and that is what I know.”

Hassan was moulded into a tough character by a hard upbringing.

An only child raised in Ethiopia by her mother and grandmother — her parents remained married but lived on separate farms — she was put on a plane to the Netherlands by her mother in 2008.

Up to then her childhood appears to have been an enjoyable one.

“We didn’t have a car. But we could eat, it was fun, and we could buy clothes,” she said. “We actually had everything.”

The traumatic incident which prompted her being sent abroad at 15 remains a mystery, and she refuses to divulge what it was.

“I have to watch out for that,” she recalled. “One day I’m happy and the next day less.

“That’s the nice thing about life. If everything is perfect, it would be boring.”

Life was not much better in the under-age asylum seekers’ home she was placed in in Zuidlaren — she recalls crying every day.

However, after her athletic prowess was recognised, she eventually came under the wing of respected coach Honore Hoedt in 2012.

Hoedt told Volkskrant that his first impressions were of a “lanky” young woman who was “a diligent worker”.

Soon Hassan was winning races while also training to be a nurse.

Hoedt noticed another trait in his young charge as she rose through the age groups.

“She can be recalcitrant,” said Hoedt, who coached her till 2015, when she gained Dutch nationality.

“She couldn’t handle loss. Then she locked herself up for days. A fire is ignited in her that sometimes blows in the wrong direction.”

By putting her defeat in the 1500m behind her to rebound so decisively in the 10,000m, Hassan proved in Tokyo that she has matured beyond measure.

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