Hassan and Ingebrigtsen light up Tokyo track

I’m not talented enough to run and smile at the same time,” the great Emil Zatopek once said.

As Sifan Hassan lay on the side of the track, exhausted, broken but surely elated after her bid for the greatest Olympic track treble since the Czech’s in 1952 ended in a second gold medal, she couldn’t quite raise one either.

But while the 28-year-old might have fallen just short in her assault on a hat-trick that would have drawn worthy comparison with Zatopek’s 5,000m, 10,000m and marathon successes 69 years ago, what the Dutch athlete has achieved over the last nine days has been utterly extraordinary, among the finest distance running feats of all-time.

Six races, more than 60 laps, one fall and three medals, a golden distance double and a 1500m bronze behind Faith Kipyegon, probably the best female exponent of that event the world has even seen.

As for the best male 1500m runner, well, in recent years that title has been reserved for Timothy Cheruiyot but no longer, the Kenyan defeated by Norwegian sensation Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who produced what felt like the umpteenth coming-of-age performance of his young career to take his first Olympic title, though it will surely not be his last.

Remarkably, it was the thirteenth time he had taken on the world champion, but the first in which he had come out on top. Even more remarkable? He is still only 20 years old.

Finishing behind that pair was Britain’s own flying Scotsman, Josh Kerr, who followed in the footsteps of Keely Hodgkinson and Laura Muir in proving that amid all the hype, this middle-distance crop are the real deal, living up to their promise on the biggest stage.

British Athletics has produced a wealth of 800m and 1500m talents over the last 20 or 30 years, many of them international champions at junior level and towards the top end of all-time lists as seniors, but this generation are wired differently.

They are bold and brave, but with the humility and astuteness that is a necessity if you hope to challenge the world’s elite. Here, Kerr followed the example of Muir and Hodginkson, striking the perfect balance between sitting off a pace too fast and not letting it get away from you, between letting it drag you past the rest and not committing tactical suicide.

Between that trio, they have now won as many Olympic middle-distance medals for Great Britain in the last week as the entire country had in the 33 years since the golden era of Coe, Cram, Ovett and Elliott came to an end after the 1988 Games – and all three of those had been won by one woman, Kelly Holmes.

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