Series09 Jan 2019

Advice to my younger self: Sifan Hassan


Dutch distance runner Sifan Hassan (© Getty Images)

Dutch endurance star Sifan Hassan last year revealed her outstanding versatility by setting European records for the 5000m and half marathon as well as winning continental gold over the shorter distance. Here the 25-year-old Ethiopian-born athlete takes a younger version of herself to task.

Question a little less

Ethiopian children are not encouraged to ask why, it is just expected that when asked they will do something. However, I repeatedly asked ‘why?’ because that is who I am. It is my personality.

Of course, to question is good and it is perfectly normal in the Dutch or English culture to do so, but in Ethiopia this was not the case. I am a very open character, so I would often question why I had to do something, but as soon as I said something, people thought I was crazy. I quickly became ashamed and shy and I felt bad.

At the time I was made to feel bad about this so maybe I would tell my 12-year-old self to question things a little less.

Sifan Hassan wins the Copenhagen Half Marathon


Make better decisions

I was completely fearless as a child but I sometimes made some bad choices that I regret. I was not a fan of mathematics, so one day I decided not to go to class and instead went hiking. I think I got a little carried away as I must have walked for 20 kilometres. I went so far that I could no longer see any other houses. It was then I realised I had missed not only the mathematics lesson but a whole day at school – including my favourite sports lesson. I then had to walk all the way back, arriving home in the dark.

My mother was not very happy, so looking back I’d like to tell my younger self to not worry about it and attend that mathematics class.

Sifan Hassan takes the London mile


Be less stubborn

I am sometimes a little too direct and I can be very stubborn. I was a particularly stubborn child. I loved sports class, where I always got 100 out of 100, but I did not like art class. I could not see the point in it.

I used to question the teacher asking her ‘why am I doing this? Give me the reason,’ I used to say. ‘I don’t like it, I’m not going to do art when I’m older.’

Looking back, I should have just kept quiet, been more relaxed and less stubborn about it.

Steve Landells for the IAAF