Sifan Hassan and Mo Farah in action in the one-hour race at the Diamond League meeting in Brussels (© AFP / Getty Images)
In the aftermath of Friday night’s world record* performances in the one-hour races at the Wanda Diamond League exhibition meeting in Brussels, the two triumphant athletes – Britain’s Mo Farah and Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands – reflected very differently upon their successes in a rarely run but nevertheless prestigious event.
While the 37-year-old Briton, who has had extensive experience of road running since turning from his stellar track career in 2017, was clearly not surprised by gaining the first world record of his career, Hassan, ever excitable, seemed dazed by her effort in breaking clear of Kenya’s world marathon record-holder Brigid Kosgei – retrospectively disqualified for stepping off the track – in the final few minutes.
“It was very strange,” said the Dutch world 1500m and 10,000m champion, who – in a King Baudoin Stadium empty of spectators but full of recorded crowd reaction – reached 18,930 metres as the hour elapsed, beating the existing mark of 18,517 metres set by Ethiopia’s Dire Tune in 2008.
“The first 30 minutes were really hard for me, I really struggled. It was supposed to be easy but it was very hard. But after 30 minutes I was feeling more relaxed. Maybe it was because, before I started, I was a little bit sick, and I threw up.
“But I am very happy because it was a strong field and I still won. At the end I thought Brigid would run away from me. She was very strong but I said to myself I would try to do my best.”
Asked why she had reacted in such a way given all the titles she had won, she responded: “Physically I was feeling good and my legs did OK, but I think mentally, because you have to go for an hour, it was very hard for me.
“I really have a respect for those who run long distances, because it is really so hard mentally. You have to be so patient.
“I don’t know about long distance races, so when I was running with Brigid I tried to help her but I didn’t know how to help. I wanted to do some work, and it was so windy. But she was keeping to me and so I thought, ‘OK, I will have to go faster, when am I going to go?’
“I really appreciate that this race was put together – I want to say thank you so much for putting it on after the difficulties the world has been having with the coronavirus. It has been great to have something to focus on and I am thankful that I have been able to achieve the record.”
Asked if she spoke to Kosgei afterwards, she responded: “It’s always very hard to talk with the long distance runners. They are always quiet. I wanted to say to her congratulations, even though I won, what could I say? But the long distance runners don’t talk a lot, they are more quiet…”
Hassan finished with a wild sprint, long legs reaching, arms pumping, apparently full of energy after her long and sickly start to the race. How could she explain it?
“This was very strange,” she said. “It was so difficult at the start of the race but it got easier and easier. Maybe it was something in my mind. When we had three minutes left I thought ‘Oh, I can make it!’ So I started to sprint. The last few minutes were like a normal competition. I was enjoying it more.”
Despite her record-breaking run in Brussels and her exploits over 13.1 miles over the past two years, she has no immediate plans to move even further up in distance. “I don’t think about the marathon,” she said. “I am more focused on the Tokyo Olympics still if it will be next year. But I am going to focus on Tokyo and more on the track.
“I do think about the half marathon. The marathon will be harder. But this race has given me a lot of confidence. It is not easy to run for an hour.”
Asked if she intended to run at the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships Gdynia 2020 on 17 October, she said: “Yes. That is what I plan to do.”
Farah, sitting next to his friend and training partner Bashir Abdi, said the race had pretty much gone according to their plan. The result being a new mark of 21,330 metres – eclipsing the 2007 mark of 21,285m set by Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie.
Abdi finished eight metres behind, and had earned a world best of his own en route by beating Gebrselassie’s 20,000m mark of 56:26 as he went through as leader in 56:20.2.
Farah said the pair had worked hard on their pacing while preparing for this event at altitude in Font Romeu in the Pyrenees. “It was about staying with the pace, and then if we felt great towards the end of the competition, push on,” he said.
Abdi added: “The first 10,000 metres was more controlled. It was about getting to the second half of the race.”
Farah, whose hour of effort ended very close to where Hassan had come to a halt near the start of the back straight, explained why it took an announcement from the Master of Ceremonies – “The record is yours, Mo!” – to bring him to a halt.
“When I passed the finishing line for the last time I saw I had 24 seconds left, but then I couldn’t see another clock, so I just kept on running to be sure I had done it. I just kept going!” he said.
Farah added that the Wavelight system of differently coloured flashing lights on the inside of the track indicating pacing targets had worked very well for them. “It helped us a lot. Sometimes you get pacemakers who go off too fast. So this system puts them in the right place. And I think that, going forward, it’s great that athletes and spectators have this new option.
“It’s been nice to get back into a competition with all that is going on in the world.
“Records are not easy things to break. It is nice to know you have broken a world record owned by someone who has achieved such a lot in his career.”
When the question was put to Farah about how sure he was of winning and earning the world record, it was answered first, with a grin, by Abdi: “Very sure!”
Farah, who set a world best over two miles indoors back in 2015, responded: “I knew what I had been doing in training and I knew I was capable of beating the record. But doing it in competition is totally different.”
Mike Rowbottom for World Athletics
*Pending the usual ratification procedure