The women’s 800m semi-finals on Thursday night provided personal bests galore, and gave an indication of the strong medal contenders for Saturday’s final.
The first semi-final looked intimidating on paper, as three first round heat winners from Wednesday ended up together in this race. In the end, if not the toughest of three semis, it definitely ended up being most eventful.
The 2015 European indoor champion Selina Buchel took the lead, taking the pack through the first lap in respectable 58.69. The Swiss athlete wasn’t slowing down or giving in under pursuers’ pressure either during the first half of the second lap; instead, she started increasing her lead.
With 150 metres to go, Ukraine’s Natalia Lupu switched gears and caught up with Buchel.
The pair were speeding towards the finish, almost synchronizing their strides, but Morocco’s Rababe Arafi pulled out a blazing spurt on the outside and just beat them both on the line.
After setting a personal best of 2:00.37 in the heat, Arafi further improved to 1:58.55.
Lupu was just behind in 1:58.57, while Buchel finished in third in 1:58.63 and missed out on the automatic qualifying spot.
The 2009 world champion Caster Semenya, from South Africa, who looked like her old self when going under two minutes in the heats, tonight was a distant last in 2:03.18.
In the second semi-final, France’s Renelle Lamote managed to maintain the lead for 799 metres of the race, only to get edged out on the line due to leaving too much space for maneuver on the inside.
The athlete who took advantage of this mistake was a new face from Great Britain, Shelayna Oskan-Clarke. The 25-year-old knocked almost two seconds off from her personal best, running 1:58.86 to advance to her first major international championship final.
The defending champion from 2013, Kenya’s Eunice Sum, hadn’t lost a single race this season until tonight’s semi-final, which also happened to be the fastest race of the three.
Sum established the race out at a fast pace, showing her readiness to lead, but Great Britain’s Lynsey Sharp stayed right on her shoulder.
The pack, led by these two athletes, covered the first 400m in 57.32.
With about 120 metres to go, Sharp’s wheels started to fall off and she let the 2014 European champion Marina Arzamasova, from Belarus, overtake her on the outside.
As Sharp continued to fade, Canada’s Melissa Bishop emerged from the chasers and successfully ran down both Arzamasova and Sum, winning the race with a national record of 1:57.52., a personal best by exactly two seconds.
Arzamasova just out-leaned Sum on the line for a personal best of 1:57.54.
Sum didn’t get an automatic qualifying spot, but, thanks to her own swift early pacing, she qualified by time in 1:57.56, taking the fourth-place finisher, Poland’s Joanna Jozwik (1:58.35), with her to Saturday’s final.
Elena Dyachkova for the IAAF