It was a head-to-head battle that many may have predicted, but the closing drama came as a shock.
Gudaf Tsegay and Sifan Hassan – shoulder to shoulder with their arms pumping and their eyes fixed on the finish – both chasing 10,000m gold in a thrilling first track final of the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23.
Two of the fastest ever women over 25 laps of the track, locked in a fierce fight. Until suddenly, they weren’t. Just metres from the finish line, after both had used their 1500m speed to superb effect over the final lap, Hassan fell – the Olympic champion’s dreams of another global medal treble going crashing down with her.
As Hassan stumbled, Tsegay remained resolute. The world 5000m champion from Oregon last year gritted her teeth and ended up adding a maiden 10,000m title to her burgeoning global medal haul, clocking 31:27.18 to lead an Ethiopian medal sweep ahead of world record-holder and defending champion Letesenbet Gidey, and world indoor medallist Ejgayehu Taye.
At first, Hassan played it safe. Sticking to the back of the field as the race set out at a conservative pace, she covered the first 400m in 87 seconds, four seconds behind the leader at the end of a line of athletes snaking around the new National Athletics Centre track.
As they ticked off the laps, the Dutch star moved up a few places – still sitting back off the leaders but close enough to cover any moves, if necessary. Tsegay and then Gidey took a turn at the front, as the race continued to build.
Then Hassan pounced. Gidey led at the bell – a stride ahead of Tsegay, with USA’s Alicia Monson just behind them. Hassan was fourth at that stage, having passed Taye plus Kenya’s Grace Loibach Nawowuna and Agnes Jebet Ngetich.
Unleashing the sort of pace that helped her to the world 1500m title in 2019 – despite having taken another step up in distance to make a winning marathon debut in London in April – the 30-year-old blazed past her rivals along the back straight and led into the final bend. She was holding off a chasing Tsegay and seemed strong.
But Tsegay – the world indoor 1500m record-holder – wasn’t giving up. She drew level with Hassan on the home straight and they jostled for position. As Hassan stretched, she lost her rhythm and fell to the track, only able to watch as gold ran away.
So did silver, and bronze. After crossing the finish line in 31:28.16 to add 10,000m silver to the gold she won in Oregon, Gidey went back to help Hassan, who walked over the finish line in 11th place.
Taye ran 31:28.31 to complete the third medal sweep for her nation in the event at the World Championships, while Kenya’s Irine Jepchumba Kimais finished fourth, Monson fifth and Ngetich sixth.
“It was a good race with an amazing finish,” said Tsegay, who claimed world 1500m bronze behind winner Hassan in 2019 and world silver in the discipline in 2022. “The 10,000m is not my usual event. I like 1500m and 5000m much more, but now I feel very special as I have managed to add one more world title at a different distance.”
Earlier this season Tsegay became the fourth-fastest women’s 10,000m runner in history behind Gidey, Hassan and Almaz Ayana with her world-leading 29:29.73 at Ethiopia’s World Championships Trials in Nerja. That was just her second ever race at the distance. Budapest offered her a third.
“The 10,000m is not an event where I have a lot of experience,” she added. “That is why it was not easy to win tonight. In any case, I was ready for very fast finish, because I was not focused on time today, but only on the gold medal. I expected Hassan to speed up and I waited for that moment, being ready to respond.”
Tsegay is also entered for the 5000m in Budapest, as is Hassan – the Dutch double Olympic champion adding to her busy week with the 1500m, too. In fact, the 10,000m final came around seven hours after she won her 1500m heat.
“I am keeping my smile, but it is really hard,” said Hassan, who claimed Olympic 1500m bronze along with her 5000m and 10,000m titles in Tokyo. “I am very disappointed. This is sport, these things happen. I just had a bad moment. I felt really strong and I tried to push on the last lap.
“I do not think I am injured. My hand is OK, but the knee needs to be checked. Hopefully, all is good.”
The 1500m semifinals take place on Sunday from 5:05pm local time and should all go to plan, Hassan will hope to contest the final on Tuesday evening before the 5000m heats on Wednesday and the final on Saturday, when she could line up for a rematch with Tsegay.
|WOMEN’S 10,000m MEDALLISTS|
|🥇||Gudaf Tsegay 🇪🇹 ETH||31:27.18|
|🥈||Letesenbet Gidey 🇪🇹 ETH||31:28.16|
|🥉||Ejgayehu Taye 🇪🇹 ETH||31:28.31|
Credit: World Athletics