Sifan Hassan’s strength of character has never been in doubt when facing trials and tribulations on and off the track, and on Sunday, she displayed that once again in winning the London Marathon.
The 30-year-old Ethiopian-born naturalised Dutch athlete looked as if her debut over the distance would end in misery as she struggled with a painful hip.
However, displaying the grit and determination she has shown since she was a child she battled back to the lead group and then sprinted clear of a world-class field.
Her steeliness is reflected in her favourite saying taken from the Koran, as she told the Dutch newspaper NRC in 2021: “For indeed, with hardship will be ease.”
She showed this at the delayed Tokyo Olympics in 2021, winning the 5,000 and 10,000 metres titles -- the latter 24 hours after her hopes of 1500m gold were shattered.
In achieving the distance double, she emulated Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba’s feat at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
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 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 was banned for life from coaching in 2021 by the United States Center for SafeSport for sexual 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 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 until 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.”
For the moment the fire is definitely blowing in the right direction, and her marathon rivals will do well to extinguish it.
- Adam Zampa concedes 113 runs in 10 overs, equals worst bowling ODI figures
- India vs Bangladesh LIVE Score, Asia Cup 2023 Super 4: IND 65/2 (14); Gill, Rahul rebuild after Tanzim removes Rohit, Tilak cheaply
- SA vs AUS LIVE Score, 4th ODI Scorecard, commentary and streaming updates: Klaasen smashes 150
- Russia says will not boycott 2024 Paris Olympics
- Premier League: Arteta hails record signing Rice’s quick adaptation at Arsenal