Looking back on 10 days of track at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics Games, many moments stand out. But a few will stick with and inspire us in the coming months as examples of courage, guts and excellence.
The day after announcing she was going for the 1500m, 5,000m and 10,000m triple, Sifan Hassan’s quest appeared over when she tripped and fell to the track with less than a lap to go in the 1500m. Our hearts leapt when she showed that even this set back wasn’t going to deter her — she quickly picked herself up and gave chase, passing the entire field by the finish.
Many of the distance races followed a familiar script: the field of experienced runners bided their time, staying bunched in a pack until the final lap, trusting to their superior speed to find their way to the front at the end. This is all well and good unless you don’t have the fastest top-end speed of the field (which is one reason you ended up a distance runner). Courtney Frerich’s showed us how you can succeed anyway, boldly taking the lead and pushing the pace 1200 meters out in the 3000m Steeplechase final. She still got caught by Peruth Chemutai, but fast-twich-challenged runners everywhere cheered her on as she kept the petal to the medal and held on to second place.
Paul Chelimo had cruised through the heat of the 5,000 so coolly that he starting given his competitor, Mohamed Katir, a hug even before they had crossed the line. In the final, however, Chelimo proved that he could also be fiercely competitive. Approaching the finish in a dead heat with Kenya’s Nicholas Kipjorir Kimeli for third, Chelimo dug deep for a final push that launched him .12 seconds ahead — and put him flat on his face. We felt his joy as he lay on the track and relished the result of his supreme effort.
Having only run two marathons prior to competing in the Olympic Games, Molly Seidel, 27, pulled off a shocking upset in the Olympic women’s marathon in Sapporo, Japan, finishing in third-place securing a bronze medal — only the third American women in history to do so. It was a triumphant and cinematic underdog-prevailing moment that showed us, in Seidel’s words, “what it means to be an athlete.”
Friends to the Finish
Approaching the finish of the men’s marathon, Dutch runner Abdi Nageeye was poised to pass Kenyan Lawrence Cherono and take second. But his training partner and friend fellow Somali-born Bashir Abdi, running for Belgium, was struggling. Negeeye slowed to run beside Abdi beckoning his friend to come with him, risking his own glory in the process. In the end, Abdi responded, and the two friends shared the podium with Eliud Kipchoge. We warmed to the amazing display friendship taking precedence over personal glory, as well as the demonstration of how human relationships transcend nationality, even in the patriotically-charged culture of the Olympics.
Sidney and Delilah’s Domination
For the past two years, American 400-meter hurdlers Sydney McLaughlin, 21, and Dalilah Muhammad have lowered their times against each other breaking prestigious record after prestigious record. Nearly every time the two line up a world record falls.
So when the two rivals and compatriots lined up for the 400-meter finals in Tokyo, drama was high. At the start of the race, McLaughlin was the world record holder while Muhammad was the defending Olympic gold medalist in the event. It was McLaughlin who surged to first in the final stretch to take gold, clocking a 51.46 and breaking her own world record. Muhammad took silver with her fastest time ever, a blazing 51.58. Ultimately, their performances showed us what the core of competition and rivalry is all about, pushing one another to reach new highs of human potential.
King Kipchoge’s Break
For the first 17.5 miles of the men’s Olympic marathon in Sapporo, Japan, Galen Rupp, 35, was on the heels of world record holder Eliud Kipchoge, 36. At that point, Rupp seemed to clip Kipchoge’s heels to which the favorite for gold gestured to Rupp to join him in leading the race. When Rupp didn’t respond, an apparently vexed Kipchoge took off, beginning his decisive break away from the rest of the field. He ran alone for more than eight miles of the field winning his second consecutive Olympic marathon in 2:08.38 — 80 seconds ahead of silver medalist Abdi Nageeye of the Netherlands. Watching Kipchoge take off was a special moment because we knew as well as he did that his royal status as the greatest marathoner in history was about to be affirmed. It was a glorious, satisfying, and slightly humorous moment.
Teens Take Names
At just ages 19, Team USA’s Athing Mu and Team GB’s Keeley Hodgkinson won gold and silver in the Olympic women’s 800m final. Mu dominated the race winning with a time of 1:55.21 — a new American record and the 11th fastest time any woman has ever run the distance. It was an inspiring moment in its own right, but it also symbolized the ushering in of a new generation of track stars making us feel hopeful and excited about the future of the sport.
In the Olympic men’s 1500m, 20-year-old Norwegian superstar Jakob Ingebrigsen overtook Kenya’s Timothy Cheruiyot, 25, in the final stretch of the race for an Olympic record (3:28.32) and gold medal. After Ingebrigsen’s win was a touching display of sportsmanship when Cheruiyot, the 2019 world champion, accepted his defeat with grace and gifted his younger rival his bracelet after embracing him.
Hassan Joins Legendary Multi-Medalists
The moment it dawns on you that you’ve witnessed history being made is a riveting one. When Sifan Hassan out kicked world-record holder Letesenbet Gidey for the gold medal in the 10,000m, she solidified her spot as a track and field legend coming away with two gold medals (5,000m and 10,000m) and one bronze medal (1500m). Among the few multi-medalists in the Games history includes Paavo Nurmi, Emil Zátopek, and Hannes Kolehmainen. Her performances throughout the 2020 Tokyo Games were a thrilling display of phenomenal athletic prowess and heroism. Watching Hassan finish victoriously in her sixth race of the Games was an awe-inspiring reminder of what the human spirit can accomplish with bravery and fierce determination.