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The 2019 World Championships have been like two separate meets for Sifan Hassan. When she won the 10,000m on Sep. 28, it was her first world title. Her coach, Alberto Salazar, was there to witness it.
One week later, another world title— this one in the 1500m— was won under much different circumstances. Salazar was long gone, his credential revoked four days prior. The coach’s four-year ban meant that he wasn’t there to see Hassan win the greatest women’s championship 1500m in history in a meet record of 3:51.95. Technically, Salazar was no longer her coach.
“It was a very tough week for me because I really had a lot of things in my head and I didn’t have a coach here who’s watching me, who’s talking with me,” said Hassan.
🇳🇱@SifanHassan completes unprecedented 1500m / 10,000m #WorldAthleticsChamps double and obliterates championship record in 3:51.95 in a middle-distance final for the ages.— IAAF (@iaaforg) October 5, 2019
📰: https://t.co/Got12CIHbC pic.twitter.com/Uw31zyoXGZ
But, of course, Salazar’s fingerprints were all over Hassan’s dominant win on Saturday. She has been his pupil since 2016. That does not make her a cheater, but likewise, it cannot simply be ignored just because she was not implicated in USADA’s investigation.
The development of the first ever 10,000m-1500m double world champion—maybe the greatest double in track and field history— was supervised by a man who, according to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, broke the rules. Her joining the Nike Oregon Project after the investigation was underway cannot eliminate all suspicion.
While Hassan isn’t the only Salazar-coached athlete at these championships— U.S. 800m runner Clayton Murphy and Ethiopian 10,000m athlete Yomif Kejelcha were also guided by him at the time of his ban— she is the most prominent. Hassan cites her consistent record of high-level performance before and after joining Salazar’s team as proof of her transparency.
“What do people think? Do they think I don’t get tested?” Hassan said.
“Do you know if I cheat, I would never be constant. Because they will catch me. If somebody is clean, they always improve, they always be constant. I’m almost five years constant athlete.”
Separate from the Salazar story, Hassan’s run on Saturday saw her take a dominant 2019 season to a new level.
The 26-year-old has had numerous memorable closes this year— including her 3:59 final 1500m last Saturday in the 10k— but this one should go down as her best yet. After setting out at 1:50.15 through 700m, 3:54 pace, Hassan split her final two laps in a bruising 2:01.80. That is 3:46.87 pace, over three seconds better than the world record. She did so by leading nearly wire-to-wire.
Just before Salazar’s ban was handed down, Hassan chose to run the 1500m over the 5000m. Her coach wanted her to run the 5000m, but when she picked the 1500m, Salazar told her she could run a special time.
“I tell him that I’m going to go for a fast time. He say, ‘Yes I believe in you. Actually, you have the world record in your legs. Maybe after the 10,000m you are tired, but I’m sure you’re going to do a PB.'”
Her bold pace dragged several other women to career-best performances, including three more to sub-3:55 runs. One of them was U.S. champion Shelby Houlihan, who finished only fourth despite running 3:54.99, an American record by over a second.
“To come into this, PR by three seconds and get the American record and it not be enough to medal, it’s kind of a hard pill to swallow honestly,” said Houlihan.
Reigning champion Faith Kipyegon of Kenya broke her national record with a 3:54.22 to finish second, while Ethiopia’s Gudaf Tsegay took the bronze in 3:54.38. Kipyegon PR’d by over two seconds and Tsegay three, but neither woman even had a chance.
Jenny Simpson, a former world champion and a four-time global medalist, ran 3:58.42-- her fastest time in three seasons-- and was only eighth. Simpson had finished on the podium in back-to-back championships, but the 33-year-old’s performance in Doha left her satisfied. On Saturday, she ran in her fifth straight 1500m world championship final.
“Eighth, it’s never what you want at a championship,” said Simpson. “But how many times can you make the final in a row in a lifetime? I’m reaching that human limit.”
Simpson has been the most outspoken athlete against Salazar since the ruling was announced on Monday, as she called for a lifetime ban for the coach.
“Get him out. That’s my reaction. If you cheat, if you get banned, I’m a believer in lifetime bans. I wish it was longer,” Simpson said on Wednesday.
The American said she was comfortable racing Hassan since the rules allowed for it.
“I am a believer in playing by the rules and the rules allow her to compete tonight. I said I would race her, so I’m honoring that commitment.”
While Salazar helped Hassan craft her race plan shortly before his ban forbid him from having contact with her, Dutch head coach Charles van Commenée was the man listed as his replacement once Salazar left Doha. His position was a mere formality.
“I didn’t talk about any strategy because I don’t have anyone to talk it,” said Hassan of the period after Salazar left.
“But I’m very happy [with] the people who stand next to me— my manager and the federation. They’re really helping me recover without thinking too much.”