RIO DE JANEIRO – Before he tripped and long before he had to wait all day to find that he had made the final of the Olympic 5,000 meters on appeal, Hassan Mead was enjoying an ideal race.
Mead had run near the front of the pack all race, tucking himself into a pocket of leaders, running easily, conserving energy.
With about 250 meters remaining in the race Wednesday morning, he had positioned himself behind three leaders, jostling for fourth place. British star Mo Farah veered into his lane. Farah stumbled but stayed upright. Mead fell, tearing skin and threatening more permanent damage.
The former Minneapolis South and Gophers runner rose and finished but dropped from fourth place before the fall to 13th in his heat. His time of 13 minutes, 34.27 seconds did not qualify him for the event final. He said after the race he planned to appeal, and his appeal to the International Athletics Association Federation (IAAF) to be advanced to the final based on his standing before the fall was initially denied, according to USA Track & Field.
Hours later, he got back in the race. The IAAF revealed late Wednesday that it had decided to advance Mead to the final.
After the race, many hours before the IAAF’s about-face, Mead could have thrown a fit or accused Farah of unintentional career sabotage. Instead, he was composed and philosophical, hoping that the appeal would come through but unwilling to paint himself as a victim.
“It’s all pretty blurry,” Mead said. “By the time I realized anything had happened, I was on the ground. What I think happened was I was inside of Mo, and I moved, and at the same time he moved in, so I didn’t have a full stride and I ran into him.
“I don’t know if you want to say he cut me off. That’s why I was on the ground and trying to get up as fast as possible to finish. That’s that.”
Mead is 27. After a successful career at Minnesota, he began training for the Olympics. He finished eighth in the 5,000 meters at the 2012 U.S. trials. He spent the past four years training for the Rio Olympics. He qualified this summer, finishing second in the trials, just 0.20 seconds behind Bernard Lagat.
Mead looked like a contender before his fall. As of Wednesday night, he became a contender again.
“I felt great,” he said. “I was thinking top four with 200 to go. I was in a good position. It’s crazy.”
Tuesday on the same track, American Abbey D’Agostino and New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin were running the women’s 5,000 when D’Agostino accidentally tripped Hamblin.
D’Agostino stopped to help up Hamblin. When D’Agostino realized she had been injured and began limping, Hamblin helped her. D’Agostino finally waved Hamblin ahead.
The two embraced when they finished, well out of contention, having provided the quaintest moment of the Games.
Then the IAAF advanced both to the finals, citing the crash, even though neither was in contention when it happened.
Mead was in contention, looking strong, when another runner tripped him as they approached the finish line. There seemed to be no logical explanation why Mead would not be advanced to the final, except that Olympics rarely employ logic.
The IAAF made the right decision. Farah caused the crash. Mead received the correct result.
Most impressive, Mead and his competitors demonstrated sportsmanship even before they knew Mead’s appeal would be upheld.
After Mead finished, Farah spoke to him and Lagat consoled him, then offered a fist bump.
“You train for four years dreaming about one thing and then it ends just right there, your dream,” Lagat said. “You almost make the finals, and in the final 200 meters it’s all gone. I hope they can do something to reinstate him. Because, really, that guy was going to go in anyway.
“I wanted him to know he has my support, 100 percent.”
At 41, Lagat is proof that this wouldn’t necessarily have been Mead’s last chance to compete in the Olympics, but Mead’s next chance would come when he’s 31. It would require four more years of training, good health, and the good luck to not fall or be tripped in another qualifying race.
“When we were at the U.S. trials, top three was the goal,” Mead said. “That was the goal here.”
As he talked after the race, his wounds bright red, sweat still pooling on his brow, he looked anything but distraught. “You fall, you’ve got one or two things you can do,” Mead said. “You can stay down, or you can get up and finish.”
He finished, and refused to whine about a moment that could have defined his career.
Mead behaved like an proud Olympian, and, thanks to a fit of common sense in the midst of a bizarre Olympics, he will get another chance to perform as one.