Heat 3 of the opening round of the women's 800m at the IAAF World Championships London 2017 (© Getty Images)
First round heats, especially in the 800m, where there are three races to negotiate before the medals are awarded, are all about doing just enough to progress. None of the athletes with realistic medal hopes like to exert themselves too much too soon.
That was certainly the case for Caster Semenya.
Drawn in the third heat, South Africa’s Olympic champion was content to let others make the early pace, principally Jamaica’s Natoya Goule, before making a late surge with 70 metres to go to take the first of three automatic qualification spots. Considering that she had already raced two rounds of the 1500m, in which she took the bronze medal on Monday, her 2:01.33 could barely have looked any easier.
Burundi’s Olympic silver medalist Francine Niyonsaba has broken two minutes in each of her races over the past two seasons and that streak was maintained in heat six. In clocking 1:59.86 the 24-year-old adopted different tactics to Semenya, choosing to move to the front with 200m remaining, her long stride moving her well clear of the field.
While Semenya and Niyonsaba are clear favourites for the gold and silver medals, Ajee’ Wilson, the USA record holder thanks to a 1:55.61 performance set in Monaco last month, is perhaps the best of the rest.
The 23-year-old front ran 2:00.52 in the first heat, looking as strong and relaxed as any athlete across the six races. In the fifth race, Wilson’s training partner and USA teammate Charlene Lipsey produced a carbon copy performance, crossing the line in 2:02.74 just ahead of Hedda Hynne of Norway and Docus Ajok of Uganda. Eunice Sum, Kenya’s 2013 world champion, was a non-starter.
Two of the more competitive heats were the second, won by Poland’s Angelika Cichocka, and the fourth, in which Kenya’s Margaret Wambui took the win.
Cichocka found herself in a group of four charging for the line, alongside Beijing silver medalist Melissa Bishop, Brenda Martinez, who was second in Moscow, and Britain’s Shelayna Oskan-Clarke.
The Pole surged to the win in 2:00.86 with Bishop clear in second, but Oksan-Clarke, cheered home by the crowd, moved past Martinez in the final strides. The American’s 2:01.53 was enough to progress.
Olympic bronze medalist Wambui moved to the front in her heat with around 300 metres remaining, after Ethiopia’s Mahlet Mulugeta had taken the bell in 1:00.69. The Kenyan sped through to take it in 2:00.75, while Britain’s Lynsey Sharp emerged as her closest challenger, moving clear of the rest in the final 15 metres to finish in 2:01.04.
But Belarus’s Marina Arzamasova crumbled in the closest stages, letting Uganda’s Halima Nakaayi past. The reigning champion’s season’s best 2:01.92 wasn’t enough to take her through as a time qualifier.
Dean Hardman for the IAAF