Two-time world and European champion Sifan Hassan achieved the first part of what could be an historic treble with a stunning 5000m victory to seal her maiden Olympic title on Monday (2).
An unstoppable last lap timed at 57.36 from the Dutchwoman - who is also aiming for 1500m and 10,000m success in Tokyo - saw her finish with serenity in a time of 14:36.79 in the Japan National Stadium, preventing Kenyan Hellen Obiri's attempt to go one better than her silver medal at Rio 2016.
Monday evening's session was somewhat defined by torrential rain, with disrupted events including the women's discus final in which Croatia’s Sandra Perkovic ended up out of the medals in her quest for a hat-trick of Olympic titles. Instead, Germany’s Kristin Pudenz grabbed a brilliant silver behind Valarie Allman of the USA, and was the only thrower to improve after competitors returned to the stadium following a delay with a 66.86m lifetime best.
Hassan, the European record-holder across all three distances that she intends to compete in, had worked hard to win her 1500m heat in the morning, recovering with sensational speed from a last lap fall. Had her 5000m rivals taken note, perhaps they wouldn’t have left the proverbial door wide open for the 28-year-old to finish in the same fashion, with pedestrian pace throughout much of the race.
Indeed, she and Obiri were joined by the likes of Türkiye’s Yasemin Can, Israel’s Selamawit Teferi and Italy’s Nadia Batocletti in the main pack of 14 runners with 2000 metres remaining, as they came through in 8:59.81. Then, with just 800 metres left, the group was whittled down to seven without the latter pair. It seemed inevitable that Hassan's trademark sprint would be the joker card to play, even if her morning exploits had dealt her a tricky hand in view of her busy Tokyo schedule.
Yet, as the bell sounded, she moved to the outside where her orange vest jetted past and picked off world-class distance runners with astonishing ease. The relaxed-looking Hassan coolly hit the front with 200 metres left. Obiri tensed up as she drove to respond. The double world champion set a championship record to win in Doha in 2019 but saw the Olympic title agonisingly slip away again as she came home in 14:38.36, two-and-a-half seconds in front of bronze medallist Gudaf Tsegay of Ethiopia.
Behind them, European U23 champion Batocletti rallied to manage the gap, leaving the 21-year-old alone between the lead and chasing groups with a lap to go. Not only did this help her achieve a personal best of 14:46.29 - her second in four days following a 14:55 run in the heat - but she also impressively overhauled Can on the line for seventh. The 2016 European champion tired and ended up two tenths and one place behind her, while Teferi made it four Europeans inside the top-10, clocking 14:54.39 in tenth.
The rain had pretty much tried out by that point, but it was during the third round of the women’s discus final - with Allman leading with the eventual winning throw of 68.98m - that the heavens opened in dramatic fashion. This left the unfortunate Liliana Ca of Portugal slipping in the circle with the implement spinning out of her hand. Shortly afterwards, the competition was stopped for 45 minutes as participants scrambled for shelter.
Five-time European champion Perkovic appeared to have built some momentum with a third throw of 65.01m that lifted her to fourth, so few would have bet against her improving when the throwers returned to the field. But Pudenz, who was at that point hanging onto bronze, seized the initiative while others struggled around her.
The athlete who was 11th in Doha two years ago, shouted as she sent the discus flying cleanly through the air, and over the 65.72m mark registered by Cuba’s Yaime Perez, who was left to settle for bronze.
Meanwhile, as well as Hassan’s triumph, the Netherlands can boast about securing the only European representation in the men's 400m final as Liemarvin Bonevacia broke his own national record of 44.62 to make it through - a first lifetime best in six years.
Pushed hard by chasing London 2012 Olympic Games winner Kirani James on his outside, the man who just missed out on a medal in the mixed 4x400m relay made amends despite fading inside the last 50 metres. James ran an eye-catching 43.88 to qualify fastest of all, with Bonevacia’s third place comfortably quick enough to advance.
Remarkably, the treacherous showers did not deter the 400m hurdlers in their semifinals, including European indoor champion Femke Bol, who was also part of mixed relay quartet.
The 21-year-old, who has now set 13 Dutch records this year and looked supreme on the Diamond League circuit, seemed a little nervy initially but built enough of a lead so that she could jog effortlessly down the home straight and come home in 53.91 - an eyecatching time regardless of the conditions.
Having beat 2004 Olympic bronze medallist Tetyana Tereshchuk-Antipova's Ukranian record in Stockholm last month, Anna Ryzhykova also made the final but as one of two non-automatic qualifiers by clocking 54.23. The other who made it was her compatriot Viktoriya Tkachuk in a final that will feature eight of the world's top nine this year based on times.
Among those to miss out on a place in the final included Bol's training partner and reigning European champion Lea Sprunger who finished fourth in the semifinal won by Bol in 55.12 while 2016 Olympic silver medallist and Danish flag-bearer at the Opening Ceremony Sara Slott Petersen saw her chances of reaching the final dissipate after falling at the eighth hurdle.
The weather also affected the women's pole vault qualification, with nine European women among 15 advanced through to Thursday's final after clearing 4.55m. Hopes will be strengthened for the likes of the reigning champion Katerina Stefanidi and reigning world champion Anzhelika Sidorova after a shock exit for world indoor champion Sandi Morris, with the American sadly crashing out with an injury that followed her pole snapping early on.
Having finished sixth in the 100m behind teammate Ajla Del Ponte, Mujinga Kambundji secured herself a sixth race of Tokyo 2020 and a place in the women's 200m by equalling her Swiss record of 22.26.
Curiously, not only is that the same time as she ran in her heat in the morning session, but it follows up the personal best-equalling 10.95 she ran in the 100m heat. The world bronze medallist would appear to be an outside contender to get on the Olympic podium on Tuesday, but Dafne Schippers will take no further part individually after a 23.03 clocking which only placed her sixth in her semifinal.
Full results are available here.