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2011 Women's 800m Final - Down Goes Semenya

By LetsRun.com
September 4, 2011
Daegu, South Korea

Caster Semenya has lost. Down the homestretch of the 800m final, Semenya, the 2009 World Champion who forever will linked to a gender controversy, had the lead. However, 2011 World leader and Russian champ Mariya Savinova kicked down Semenya to get the win in a world-leading 1:55.87. American world indoor 800m medallist Alysia Montano made a late bid for bronze but came up just short (.06) of Janeth Jepkosgei and had to settle for fourth.

Recap, analysis and post-race reaction below.

Jepkosgei Pushes The Pace Early
Jepkosgei, the 2007 World Champion, and 2008 and 2009 runner-up, took it out hard as she likes to do. She went through 200m in 26.61 and was followed by Jamaica's Kenia Sinclair, who likes to front-run as well. Alysia Montano of the US was third while there was a gap to Semenya in fifth.

Jepkosgei hit 400m in 55.86 (that's what was reported on the monitors during the race, the official split says 55.50). Sinclair and Montano were still with her, but then there was a gap to the rest of the field which, in order, was led by Russian Ekaterina Kostetskaya, then Montano, Semenya and Savinova.

Jepkosgei kept leading down the backstretch but Semenya began to make her move. Jepkosgei still led at 600 (1:26.07), but on the turn Semenya was going wide and past Jepkosgei. As Semenya went wide past Jepkosgei, Savinova was in Semenya's wake in lane 2 moving up as well. Semenya hit the final straight 3 meters up on Savinova as Jepkosgei was a step back in third.

This was where many expected Semenya to run away from the field and she did. However, there was one problem, Savinova was running away from everyone else as well and gaining on Semenya. Thirty meters form the finish, she passed Semenya, who could not put up a fight, and the gold was the Russian's in 1:55.87. Semenya was well-beaten in second. Now the battle behind her was on for bronze. Jepkosgei was still holding onto third despite the hot early pace. Montano, who had fallen back to 6th on the turn, was making a late charge the final 50 meters. She passed Kostetskaya and now set her sights on Jepkosgei. Montano was gaining quickly but there was not much real estate left. Montano dove across the line but her charge was too late. Jepkosgei got the bronze in 1:57.42 to Montano's 1:57.48. Kostetskaya soon crossed in fifth. American Maggie Vessey had been in seventh out of contention for most of the race and she passed the fading Sinclair for 6th in a season's best time.

Savinova's winning time was a 2011 world leader, as all the top 6 except for Kostetskaya set seasonal bests.

The Non-Medallist Reactions
Alysia Montano ended in the unenviable position of fourth and was left wondering what would have happened if she had not been boxed in on the turn when Semenya and Savinova went by. Montano said, "I got stuck twice the last 150 and it is just about position. The 800 is an unforgiving event. I feel like I had a lot left." She leaves the Worlds not only with a season's best but with strong performance in each round. She said, "I am proud of the performance. I ran 1:59 (round 1), 1:58 (semi-final), 1:57 (final)."

Maggie Vessey was a second behind Montano in sixth. She left disappointed with the end result, but with a key area to work on for next year, her "strength." This was Vessey's first Worlds final and as for needing to work on her strength, she said, "It's really difficult to simulate in practice (what a 1:58 semifinal does to your body)." She added, "There are a lot of positives that come out of it and there are a lot of things that I learned that I can work on."

Jamaica's Sinclair had dominated the world 800m scene until she got tangled up in Paris and then missed some time with an injury. As for the final, she was hoping to show that Jamaican running is not all sprinting. She felt she was in 1:56 shape, but just did not have it the last 100m. She had the "mind frame I had to be on the podium. I went (hard) from the start and I just didn't have the finish." Sinclair felt the injury affected her ability to run the rounds at Worlds.

Alysia Montano After Coming Up Just Short

Maggie Vessey On Her First Final

Jamaica's Kenia Sinclair

 

Medallists React - Semenya Pays Respect To Her Mentor Nelson Mandela
The gold may have belonged to Savinova, but the attention at the post-race was on Semenya. For the first time all week, she addressed the media. And for the first time ever at Worlds, she attended the medallist post-race press conference. In 2009, there was so much controversy surrounding her appearance at Worlds that the IAAF did not require her to attend the post-race press conference despite the fact she was a gold medallist.

Semenya was very calm and collected when she addressed the media and would win over some fans if she talked to the media more often. Asked about her improved form in Daegu, Semenya smiled and said, "As an athlete, everybody has got his own secrets. As for me, Caster Semenya, you never know me, I've got this magic touch, so things just change." (We know this quote will draw attention, but we take the use of "his" as proper English according to Semenya, rather than Semenya referring to herself specifically as a male.)

When asked to compare her 2009 gold with her 2011 silver she said, "This year, I had a great season for me winning silver. In 2009, I was a little kid. I was not thinking when I was running (in 2009). It was just "BOOM." For me this year I had such a good experience. As an athlete you need to accept if you lose or you win. Silver is good for me. If you saw my races three months ago, I was not in good shape ... so for me it was a great achievement. I just need to give it back to Nelson Mandela."

Savinova had said some harsh things about Semenya in the past, but would not touch the controversy at the post-race press conference, saying the IAAF had ruled on the issue. On her win, Savinova said, "When I saw Caster's great shape before the race, I told myself that she was very well prepared and she was unbeatable to me. That is why I was prepared to fight for silver and did not focus on gold. I am still shocked I managed to win. In the last 30 meters I already knew I was going to win, so I started to smile and crossed the finish line with smiling face."

While Savinova got gold and Semenya got the attention, Jepkosgei was on the podium for the fourth straight global championship. It was her first bronze, but she was pleased to leave the Championships with a medal. She said, "I'm happy because once again I'm on the podium and going home with something around my neck for the 4th year."

Janeth Jepkosgei After Another Worlds Medal

Caster Semenya And Savinova And Jepkosgei At Post-Race Press Conference

Quick Thoughts:
QT1:
A lot of people did not want to see Semenya win. One of the unspoken rules for the media is "No cheering in the press box" (although that does not seem to apply too much for track and field, as media members all week were posing for pictures with athletes in the mixed zone). Well, when Savinova went past Semenya for gold, media members were cheering loudly and high fiving each other in the stadium. Down in the mixed zone, the reports were of loud cheers as well.

QT2: Three cheers for Janeth Jepkosgei's fourth straight global medal. Very impressive at 800. Our initial thought was the first 400 was too fast for her. But after looking at the splits at all 4 of Janeth's global championships, we don't think what she did here was too out of the ordinary.

  2007 2008 2009 2011
200m (leader) 26.58   26.81 26.61
400 (leader) 56.16 55.41 56.83 55.81
600 (leader) 1:26.19 1:24.03 1:26.96 1:26.07
Jepkosgei's Final Time 1:56.04 1:56.07 1:57.90 1:57.42

Notes: The official split in Daegu says 55.50, but the clock during the race said 55.81. Jepkosgei could have gone out a little slower, but you see she ran faster here than she did in Berlin.

QT3: For those of you who think Semenya tanked on purpose to take scrutiny off of her, read what the Science of Sport blog says about this. They refute the idea and we agree with them. Based on Semenya's performance this week, we doubt she had any qualms about winning or getting more attention. She isn't concerned with pleasing the media at all.

QT4: Semenya needs to be put in front of the media more often. Watching her talk can be a bit strange, but she is personable and we don't see how it hurts her case. The public largely already is against her, judging by the media reaction and some of the posts in this thread. We never thought we'd see the day when LRC message boarders were cheering Russian women, considering the doping past of some of the Russian mid-distance runners.

QT5: The US did not get a medal, but two finalists is pretty good. The 800m women have been the flag bearers for the US female track distance runners last year and this year, until Jenny's breakthrough at 1,500 this year.

1 6 782 Mariya Savinova RUS 1:55.87 (WL)
2 5 740 Caster Semenya RSA 1:56.35 (SB)
3 1 569 Janeth Jepkosgei Busienei KEN 1:57.42 (SB)
4 7 955 Alysia Johnson Montano USA 1:57.48 (SB)
5 4 767 Ekaterina Kostetskaya RUS 1:57.82
6 2 984 Maggie Vessey USA 1:58.50 (SB)
7 8 523 Kenia Sinclair JAM 1:58.66
8 3 781 Yuliya Rusanova RUS 1:59.74

More: *Nice Science Of Sport Post On Women's 800m Final
On The Boards:
Semenya Lost

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