Women’s 4 X 800 Preview: Can The US Women Take Down Eunice Sum And Kenya And Win Gold?

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by LetsRun.com
May 22, 2014

The inaugural IAAF World Relays kick off on Saturday in the Bahamas. We’re very excited about the event and will be there to cover it for you.

The U.S. will be sending strong teams in the 4 x 100, 4 x 200 and 4 x 400, but this is LetsRun.com and we care all about the two mid-d relays – the 4 x 800 and 4 x 1,500. Of those, the US’s best chance for a gold in the middle-distance relays will likely be on Sunday night (7:17 pm ET) in the women’s 4 x 800.

The 9 entrants for the event are (in alphabetical order): Australia, France, Jamaica, Kenya, Mexico, Romania, Russia, Trinidad and Tobago, and the US.

Even without four-time defending U.S. champion Alysia Montano (pregnant) and WC 1,500 finalist Mary Cain (skipping the meet), the US women’s 4 x 800 team is loaded. It boasts the World Indoor champ in Chanelle Price, last year’s bronze medalist at Worlds, Brenda Martinez, and Ajee Wilson, who was sixth at Worlds in Moscow and the fastest woman in the world indoors this year.

It helps to have the best in the world on the anchor

It helps to have the best in the world on the anchor.

On paper, it is a two-horse race for gold between the U.S. and Kenya. A mid-d relay normally comes down to the anchor, and let there be no doubt, Kenya has the strongest anchor in the field in reigning world champion Eunice Sum, who is undefeated in 2014 after defeating Price to win at the Doha Diamond League meet.

“I’m stronger [than last year]. I have no injuries. Training is a little bit improved from last year,” said Sum last week to the IAAF.

Four-time global medalist and ’07 world champ Janeth Jepkosgei is a formidable No. 2 for Kenya.

If the U.S. is going to win, it will have to put distance on Kenya as we don’t know how an American can be expected to beat Sum straight up.

We break it down for you below by answering four questions.

1) Can the US Women possibly win gold? Is it possible the US could gap Kenya before it comes down to leg #4?

The stats certainly show it is indeed possible.

Women’s 4 X 800
Team USADOBPR2013 SB2014 SBComments
LARA Geena18.01.19871:59.242:00.532:01.102 Worlds teams at 800; 2-time NCAA champ at Michigan
LIPSEY Charlene15.07.19912:01.092:00.882:01.09Won all 4 of her 800s outdoors in ’14 but hasn’t faced great competition yet
MARTINEZ Brenda08.09.19871:57.911:57.911:59.91’13 WC bronze medalist coming off win at Oxy
PRICE Chanelle22.08.19901:59.752:01.701:59.75’14 indoor world champion broke 2:00 for first time at Doha 2 weeks ago. Having great year.
UCENY Morgan10.03.19851:58.372:02.512:02.93Likely running 4 x 1,500
WILSON Ajee08.05.19941:58.211:58.212:00.436th at WC last year but didn’t make final at World Indoors. Only 2:03.81 outdoors but big 1,500 PR.
Top 4 PR avg. = 1:58.78 (not including Uceny)
Top 4 2013/14 SB avg. – 1:59.10 (7:56.40)
Team KenyaDATE OF BIRTHPR2013 SB2014 SBComment
CHESEBE Silvia16.04.19892:00.762:00.762:04.8h (alt.)3rd at Kenyan trials; All-Africa Games bronze in ’12
JEPKOSGEI Janeth13.12.19831:56.041:58.712:00.492007 world champ, silvers in 2008 OG and 2009 Worlds, bronze at 2011 Worlds. 4th at Doha DL.
JERUTO Agatha02.04.19942:03.222:04.92:05.4h (alt.)5th at Kenyan trials. Likely the alternate. 20 years old.
KOECH Cherono08.12.19921:59.682:02.482:05.2h (alt.)’09 World Youth champ/’10 World Juniors silver, 2012 Olympian. Just 21. 4th place at Kenyan trials.
SUM Eunice Jepkoech10.04.19881:57.381:57.381:59.33Reigning world champ is undefeated in ’14 including wins at Kenyan trials and Doha DL
Top 4 PR avg. = 1:58.46
Top 4 2013/14 SB avg. – 1:59.83 (7:59.33)

(*Note: When compiling stats for US team, we didn’t include Uceny or Lipsey.)

If you add up the PRs of the four Americans likely to run and the four Kenyans likely to run, the stats reveal Kenya has a tiny advantage as Kenya’s top four adds up to 7:54.24 (1:58.46) to the US’s 7:55.12 (1:58.78 avg). That doesn’t bode well for the US.

But PRs aren’t really relevant.  For example, Janeth Jepkosgei is over 30 and not the same runner she was seven years ago when she won a world title. Let’s look at how the runners have done since the start of 2013.

Looking at the top times put up by the runners in 2013 or 2014, the US has a significant edge, 7:56.40 to 7:59.33 (1:59.10 avg to 1:59.83 avg).

Behind the top two world champions Sum and Jepkosgei, Kenya’s legs will be manned with some combination of Silvia Chesebe, Cherono Koech and Agatha Jeruto (Jeruto is most likely the alternate). It’s very hard to tell what to expect out of them considering they’ve combined to finish just four races in 2014, all of them at altitude in Kenya. The results of the Kenyan Trials were as follows:

1          Eunice Sum                 2:03.2h
2          Janeth Jepkosgei        2:03.9h
3          Sylivia Chesebe          2:04.8h
4          Cherono Koech           2:05.2h
5          Agatha Kimaswai       2:05.4h

It’s worth noting the 27-year-old Chesebe isn’t experienced on the pro circuit as she’s only run two races ever outside of Kenya, a 2:03 and 2:02 in France last year.

Finishing within two seconds of Sum if Sum was going all out isn’t a shame, but one bad leg will kill you in a relay and those results should give American fans hope that someone for Kenya falters and the US enters the anchor leg with a significant lead.

In the battle for gold, we see it as follows:

US anchor gets stick with 2+ second lead = US wins gold
US anchor gets stick with 1-2 second lead = It’s possible that the US wins gold
US anchor gets lead with less than 1 second lead = US wins silver

It’s a shame Cain and Montano aren’t here because with either one of them, we’d be very confident the US would just run away from Kenya early.

Will Brenda Martinez be crying tears of joy once again on Sunday? *More Moscow WC Photos

Will Brenda Martinez be crying tears of joy once again on Sunday? *More Moscow WC Photos

2) Who anchors for the US?

Relay order is very important. If you are Kenya, you have to simply stay in it and keep it close for Sum. If US are the US, you need to break it open by the end of the third leg.

If we were the US, we’d be tempted to line the team up slowest to fastest (instead of putting one of the faster runners on the first leg. Another option that we’ve never seen used would be just to try and time trial it and go fastest to slowest). This isn’t Penn Relays where there are super-large fields and it’s crucial to get off to a good start. On paper, there is no one from Kenya that should be able blow away anyone from the US except for Sum. Thus the US should simply try to keep it close on the first leg, and then really try to break it open with Wilson, Price and Martinez.

With a world outdoor silver and a negative-split 1:59 last week, Martinez deserves to be the US anchor over Price if she wants it. Price is very much accustomed to running out in front, whereas Martinez normally comes from behind, so we’re fine with either one of them anchoring.

3) Will the American record go down?

While the Soviet Union’s likely doped world record of 7:50.17 from 1984 is safe, the U.S. women have a great shot to take down the American record of 8:04.31 from 2013. If you add up the U.S.’s top four PRs (Price, Martinez, Wilson and Geena Lara), it comes out to 7:55.12. Now, four PRs back-to-back isn’t going to happen, but remember three legs get to enjoy a running start which usually helps by at least half a second per leg.

We fully expect the US record to go down. If you give the U.S. women two 2:00s and two 2:01s, they break the record with two seconds to spare. A sub-8:00 would be special.

4) Who will get bronze?

Just as we did above with the stats in the gold medal hunt, we’ve produced similar stats for teams likely to contend for bronze. They appear at the bottom of this article.

If you’ve looked at the list of entered nations, you might be thinking, “What about Russia? Can’t they challenge the US and Kenya?”

After all, they’re entered and had two of the top five from last year’s World Championships. The problem is that none of the Russians’ four entrants from Worlds last year are on the roster. A team with 2-time global champ Mariya Savinova (1:55.87 PR) and 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Yekaterina Poistogova (1:57.53 PR) would make for a very interesting race up front. The team Russia is sending features no runner faster than 2:02.29 on the year. Additionally, four of the five runners haven’t raced since February, so we know even less about the Russians’ form than the Kenyans’. The anchor figures to be Irinia Maracheva (European silver medalist in ’12, 1:57.82 PR), but the other four runners are largely unproven on the global stage.

Australia will also be in the hunt for a medal, but they’ll be at a slight disadvantage since several of their runners will be doubling back from the 4 x 1,500 the day before. Their strongest leg is Zoe Buckman (seventh at Worlds in the 1,500 last year, 2:00.93 PR), but she was just seventh in the second heat of the 800 at Oxy (2:02.50). Based on PRs, Australia is a bit behind Russia, though the Aussies have at least raced recently.

Jamaica is the only other team worth mentioning, with a couple faces familiar to anyone who follows the U.S. collegiate scene. 2013 indoor/outdoor NCAA champ Natoya Goule is sitting out from NCAA competition for a year after transferring from LSU to Clemson, and she’ll get a chance to race here. Yanique Malcolm, who won SECs for Alabama last weekend and who ranks sixth in the NCAA this season at 2:03.28 this year, is also on the team. Besides Goule, however, the Jamaicans don’t have anyone else with a PR under 2:03.08, putting them behind the teams mentioned above. Their best chance at a medal is hoping for hot weather to melt the Russians and an off day from the Australians.

Team RussiaDOBPR2014 SBComment
BALAKSHINA Anna22.11.19862:00.192:03.19Part of indoor world 4 x 800 record from ’11. No races since February.
KOBELEVA Elena12.06.19882:01.782:02.89No races since February
MARACHEVA Irina29.09.19841:57.822:03.46European championships silver medalist in ’12. No races since February.
ROGOZINA Svetlana26.12.19922:01.682:02.7221-year-old ran SB on May 11.
MYAZINA Tatyana18.03.19822:02.292:02.29No races since February
Top 4 average = 2:00.37Top 4 average =2:02.78
Team AustraliaDATE OF BIRTHPR2014 SBComment
DELANEY Bridey16.07.19892:05.182:05.18.05 behind US’s Lara in 1500 at Oxy. 5th at World Juniors in ’08.
MCGOWAN Brittany24.4.19912:01.262:01.264th at Oxy in 2:01.70.
KAJAN Selma30.07.19912:02.132:02.13Ran PR at Oxy
HETHERINGTON Kelly10.03.19892:01.222:01.53Went out in heats at ’13 WC. Hasn’t raced since April 6.
DUNCAN Melissa30.01.19902:08.1h2:08.1h (2013)1,500 runner hasn’t run an 800 in ’14. Likely alternate.
BUCKMAN Zoe21.12.19882:00.932:02.217th at WC 1500 in ’13. Australian outdoor 1,500 champ in April, but just 7th in heat 2 of 800 at Oxy.
Top 4 average = 2:01.39Top 4 average = 2:01.78
Team JamaicaDATE OF BIRTHPR2014 SBComment
GORDON Chris-Ann18.09.19942:04.732:04.737th in 400m at ’12 World Juniors.
MCKENZIE Lorain10.05.19852:04.792:04.79
GOULE Natoya30.3.19911:59.932:01.89’13 indoor/outdoor NCAA champ at LSU failed to make final at World Indoors. Sitting out a year after transferring to Clemson.
CAMPBELL Simoya01.03.19942:03.082:04.76Won all four races in ’14 but none outside Jamaica
MALCOLM Yanique12.08.19912:03.282:03.28SEC champ at Alabama ranks 6th in NCAA this season.
Top 4 average = 2:02.76Top 4 average = 2:03.67

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