Mark Clairmont |

BRACEBRIDGE — Natalia Hawthorn knew anything could happen in the Olympic heats.

But she didn’t expect to be caught up in dramatic pileup heading in to the home stretch of the 1,500 metres tonight in second heat in Tokyo.

The Bracebridge mid-distance runner got tangled up as she “looked like she was moving up at that point,” said her said dad, Ken Hawthorn.

“We’re still discussing the race and enjoying the night,” he said a few hours after the race.

Hawthorn was able to finish the race 10th of 15 runners after podium favourite and top-ranked Sifan Hassan, of the Netherlands, got up from the track to stage a huge comeback the final 300 metres to win the heat.

Natalia Hawthorn smiles and waves while being introduced at the start of the second women’s 1,500 heat tonight (Monday morning) at the Tokyo Olympics. (CBC TV screen grab)

The Hawthorn home was filled with family and friends cheering on Natalia.

And it was quite the scene for them around the TV when the dramatic mishap occurred.

“Yes,” sighed Hawthorn simply.

The Hawthorns had a “close group of friends” into their home to watch the race.

“About 15 people. It was nice, because they were people who were involved in her development.”

Including her first club coach Hugh Cameron, of the Newmarket Huskies, who trained her since she was age 14 and in to university.

A few others were teachers from Monck public school and phys-ed teachers from BMLSS and close family friends.

“Everybody knew her well and we shared the experience.”

But it wasn’t the finish anyone foresaw.

“Things happen,” Hawthorn said. “She did all she could under the circumstances.

“I’m glad she didn’t wipe out completely and she tried to regain her composure and do the best she could at the end.”

Hawthorn started from the outside lane and was mid-pack for most of the race before making her move to the inside lane late about 1,000 metres in.

“They were pretty bunched together,” said her dad.

“It looked like she was moving up at that point — didn’t it?

“Then all of a sudden the hole closed and there was no room and she just started to go down and then the people fell behind her.”

But she didn’t go down.

“She was able to get back and get it together just as the others went down.”

Hawthorn finished in a time of 4:08.04, after meeting the Olympic qualifying time of 4:04.20.

“We’re proud of her and we haven’t talked with her yet,” said her dad in a home still reverberating from the exhilarating race.

“We’re just glad she had the Olympic experience and there’s still more to come from her.

“She loves running.”

At the starting line Natalia Hawthorn was ready to race. She trains for all kinds of scenarios, but could never have expected to get tangled up in dramatic finish with the world’s top-ranked runner in the race. (CBC TV screen grab)

The top six in each heat advanced to the semifinals, including Toronto sisters Gabriela Debues-Stafford and Lucia Stafford after impressive performances in their respective heats.

Gabriela, the Canadian record-holder in the distance at three minutes 56.12 seconds, won the first heat of the day with a time of 4:03.70.

But the 25-year-old, in her second Olympics, was outdone by younger sister Lucia, 22, who ran a personal best 4:03.52 to finish seventh in the fastest and final heat.

The top six in each of the three heats, plus the next six fastest, book their spots in Wednesday’s semifinals. The final goes on Friday.

The Stafford sisters avoided the drama of the second heat, when podium favourite and top-ranked Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands got tangled with a competitor and tumbled to the deck. Hassan was beginning her unprecedented quest for a 1,500, 5000 and 10,000 triple.

The fall dropped Hassan to 11th after 1,200 metres, but she quickly recovered, surging past the front of the pack in the final 300 metres to win her heat at 4:04.17. 


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