Sarah Attar Makes History For Saudi Arabia As The Three Americans Advance

Women's 800 Round 1: On the track, the big names that took to the track all advanced but the biggest ovations went to the two slowest performers of the day

More Attar coverage: *LRC Meet Sarah Attar - Saudia Arabia's First Track & Field Athlete
*LRC Column/Editorial: Sarah Attar Makes Olympic Track and Field History for Saudi Arabia in 800m - But Is It Enough?
Race Recap: LRC Sarah Attar Makes History For Saudi Arabia As The Three Americans Advance
*LRC Sarah Attar Photo Gallery Here

August 8, 2012
London, England

The first round of the women's 800 at the 2012 London Olympics got under way on Wednesday and all of the major players that took the track including 2008 Olympic champ Pamela Jelimo, American champ Alysia Montano and 2009 world champ Caster Semenya advanced to the semifinals as did all but three of the close to 20 starters who had come in sub 2:00 on the year.  There were a few big name casualties on the DNS (did not start) list, however, as Ethiopian national record holder Fantu Magiso, who came in with the fourth fastest time on the year, didn't start with an injury. Also Jamaica's Kenia Sinclair, who was a world championship finalist last year, didn't start as well.

Saudi Arabia's participation in women's track and field at the Olympics took place for the first time as well as Pepperdine University sophomore Sarah Attar ran in the women's 800.

In terms of the action, it wasn't a real high quality affair. There were 41 starters and 24 qualifiers. Everyone who broke 2:05 advanced as the last 'lucky loser' ran 2:03.85 with the fastest non-qualifier being a 2:05.45. Included in the semifinalists are all three American entries including a stunned Geena Gall who didn't look good in heat four and ran 2:03.85 for 4th. Gall assumed when she talked to us - as did we - that her Olympic racing was over for 2012. But she'd eventually get in on time.

Geena Gall said she suffered a calf-injury at the Crystal Palace meet on July 14th. Since then she's been doing every sort of cross-training possible and only recently started running again. With basically no running behind her, she thought 2:03 wasn't too bad. She said, "I've been dealing with a strained calf for the past couple of weeks, so I just started running again 100 percent with no pain a few days ago. I just came out here and gave it all that I had, regardless." Assuming she didn't make the semi-final, Gall talked about how she now would try to enjoy the Olympic village and the closing ceremonies. First, she'll have to run the semi-final as her time got her in.

Gall got a bit lucky as with three qualifiers coming from each heat, and one heat only featuring five starters, some of the heats went out really slow including two that went out in 68. The heat right after Gall's, heat five, was the one crazy heat where there were four sub-2:00 women on the year in the heat plus a Kenyan and yet the women were willing to play Russian Roulette with their qualifying chances by going out in 68 when all they needed to do was run 2:03 to advance. In this heat, Melissa Bishop of Canada and Maryna Arzamasava of Belarus, who had both gone sub-2:00 on the year, didn't advance. The Ukraine's Yuliva Krevsun, who was a finalist in 2008 and 4th in 2008, was the only other sub-2:00 performer on the year not advancing as she dropped out of heat four.

Sarah Attar Making History
LRC Sarah Attar Photo Gallery Here

Also advancing for the US was Alice Schmidt. The two-time Olympian raced for the first time in nearly a month. Recovering from six races at the Olympic Trials (Schmidt ran the 800 and 1500) was difficult for Schmidt and her only race after the Trials was a disappointing 2:01.71 800m on July 15th. After that, Schmidt rested up and tried to get healthy as her shin is "a little bit grumpy." Today Schmidt looked fine was happy with her effort, "I was pleased with how it went today. It wasn’t a super-fast time (2:01.65), but it is one of my first races in a very long time and it was a good shock to my system."

The biggest ovation of the day came for Pepperdine University sophomore Sarah Attar, who became the first women to represent Saudi Arabia, by running 2:44.95 in heat six. (We have a separate article on her participation here: Sarah Attar Makes Olympic Track and Field History for Saudi Arabia in 800m, But Is It Enough?).

Alice Schmidt's coach, 1984 Olympic 800m champion, Joaquim Cruz, has been working with Sarah Attar, for the last month. Schmidt met Attar for the first time yesterday and was impressed with her. Schmidt said, "This is such a giant step forward for all the women of Saudi Arabia. I would have given her a huge hug at the finish line. She's just a really great person. Really nice, courteous. She's making a big move for the women of Saudi Arabia."

US champion and medal hopeful Alysia Montano went out crazy fast in her heat (55.47) and was rewarded with the fastest time of the day - 2:00.47.

The second biggest ovation went to Turkey's national record holder Merve Aydin, who at age 22 had run 2:00.23 this year. She became injured early on her heat but displayed she has the true Olympic spirit by limping herself to a 3:24.35 finish before breaking into tears.

Heat descriptions, quick takes and results below.

Heat 1: Alysia Montano and Caster Semenya Advance

Alysia Montano didn't mess around in her heat. Being someone who likes to run fast and not knowing what was going to happen in the heats behind her, Montano did her usual thing and took the lead from the start. She had close to a 10 meter lead when she hit 200 in 26-27 over South Africa's Caster Semenya, who was making her Olympic debut. At 400 (55.55), she had close to three seconds on the field in a race where Semenya would ultimately get fairly close to her at the end.

Alysia Johnson Montano did not talk to the media afterwards as it is her grandmother's 100th birthday and she is going to celebrate with her. Her grandmother is a Jamaican, but lives in Britain.

Quick Take (QT) #1: We say Montano was doing her normal thing of taking it out fast but in our minds she also did her normal thing of taking it out too hard. 55.47-64.92 isn't the best way to run an 800. Look how big her lead was just 300 into the race.

QT #2: With point #1 being made, when she went to the front we thought, "Glad to see she's doing her normal thing and not trying to get cute." Too many people later on - particularly heat 5 - just put it all to chance. That doesn't mean Montano shouldn't learn a better sense of pace.

QT #3: Happy B-Day Grandmother!!!!

Position Lane Bib Athlete Country Mark .
1 7 3300 Alysia Johnson Montano USA 2:00.47 Q .
2 8 2794 Caster Semenya RSA 2:00.71 Q .
3 3 2469 Halima Hachlaf MAR 2:00.99 Q .
4 2 1486 Rose Mary Almanza CUB 2:01.19 q .
5 4 2531 Annabelle Lascar MRI 2:05.45 (PB)
6 5 2491 Elena Popescu MDA 2:06.94 .
. 6 1590 Noura Elsayed EGY DNS .
Intermediate Bib Athlete nat Mark
400m 3300 Alysia Johnson Montano USA 55.55
600m 3300 Alysia Johnson Montano USA 1:27.22

Heat 2: Alice Schmidt Advances

This heat was pretty tightly bunched throughout as shown by the picture below taken near the finish but in the end all of the top four would advance including American Alice Schmidt and world champion Mariya Savinova, both of whom were always safely in the top three coming towards the finish.

The big news really from this heat was Turkey's national record holder Merve Aydin became injured early on the race but displayed the true Olympic spirit by limping herself to a 3:24.35 finish before breaking into tears at the finish.

QT #1: Watching these races must be tough for US 4th placer Molly Beckwith. All year long, Beckwith has been really good and she's clearly been one of America's top 3 800 women all year long except for the final 10 meters of the day it mattered.

Position Lane Bib Athlete Country Mark .
1 2 2890 Mariya Savinova RUS 2:01.56 Q .
2 7 3315 Alice Schmidt USA 2:01.65 Q .
3 5 2074 Tintu Luka IND 2:01.75 Q .
4 6 2464 Malika Akkaoui MAR 2:01.78 q .
5 3 2625 Andrea Ferris PAN 2:05.59 .
6 8 2518 Haley Nemra MHL 2:14.90 (SB)
7 4 3081 Merve Aydin TUR 3:24.35 .
Intermediate Bib Athlete nat Mark
400m 3315 Alice Schmidt USA 1:00.23
600m 3315 Alice Schmidt USA 1:31.29

Heat 3: Magiso and Sinclair Don't Start

The big news here was that Magiso and Sinclair didn't start. With only five starters and three qualifiers, it wasn't a surprise it went out slow - 68.06.

QT #1: Neither Magiso or Sinclair's DNSs were big shocks. Magiso, who had run 1:57 three times this year, hadn't raced since June 9th. Sinclair hadn't raced since June 30th.

Position Lane Bib Athlete Country Mark .
1 7 1130 Francine Niyonsaba BDI 2:07.57 Q .
2 9 1318 Jessica Smith CAN 2:07.75 Q .
3 8 1260 Genzeb Shumi BRN 2:07.77 Q .
4 2 2969 Amina Bakhit SUD 2:09.78 .
5 6 2023 Amy Atkinson GUM 2:18.53 (NR)
. 3 1711 Fantu Magiso ETH DNS .
. 5 2204 Kenia Sinclair JAM DNS .
. 4 3171 Liliya Lobanova UKR DNS .
Intermediate Bib Athlete nat Mark
400m 1260 Genzeb Shumi BRN 1:08.06
600m 1130 Francine Niyonsaba BDI 1:38.91

Heat 4: Defending Champ Pamela Jelimo Advances With Ease As Geena Gall Gets Lucky

2008 Olympic champion Pamela Jelimo was the class of the field on the last lap. US runner-up Geena Gall was well off the pace - roughly 10 meters back - by 600 and didn't look good at all but she'd advance on time to the semifinals. Finishing second was European silver medallist Lynsey Sharp who was put on the Olympic team with a 'B' qualifier even though Britain had three 'A' qualifiers.

Position Lane Bib Athlete Country Mark .
1 6 2329 Pamela Jelimo KEN 2:00.54 Q .
2 7 1878 Lynsey Sharp GBR 2:01.41 Q .
3 2 1990 Eléni Filándra GRE 2:02.29 Q .
4 3 3291 Geena Gall USA 2:03.85 q .
5 4 1015 Felismina Cavela ANG 2:10.95 (PB)
6 8 2622 Rabia Ashiq PAK 2:17.39 .
. 5 3169 Yuliya Krevsun UKR DNF .
Intermediate Bib Athlete nat Mark
400m 1990 Eléni Filándra GRE 59.21
600m 2329 Pamela Jelimo KEN 1:29.59

Heat 5: Two Sub-2:00 Women Play Russian Roulette And Go Home

This was the group of death if there was one.

While one only had five starters, this one had eight and it included four who had gone sub-2 this year including world indoor silver medallist Natalia Lupu of the Ukraine and European champion Elena Arzhakova or Russia.

They were confident in their abilities and happy to let it go out in 68 as they would go 1-2 but the two that are probably kicking themselves for letting it go out so slow are European 4th placer Maryna Arzamasava of the Belarus and Canada's Melissa Bishop, who both had gone sub-2 this year but were sent home.

Position Lane Bib Athlete Country Mark .
1 6 3173 Nataliia Lupu UKR 2:08.35 Q .
2 3 2844 Elena Arzhakova RUS 2:08.39 Q .
3 7 2338 Cherono Koech KEN 2:08.43 Q .
4 2 1173 Maryna Arzamasava BLR 2:08.45 .
5 9 1536 Lenka Masná CZE 2:08.68 .
6 5 1305 Melissa Bishop CAN 2:09.33 .
7 4 2533 Aicha Bilal Fall MTN 2:27.97 (NR)
8 8 2638 Woroud Sawalha PLE 2:29.16 (PB)
Intermediate Bib Athlete nat Mark
400m 2844 Elena Arzhakova RUS 1:08.70
600m 3173 Nataliia Lupu UKR 1:41.03

Heat 6: The Top 6 Are Rewarded With Qs as Sarah Attar Competes

2008 Olympic silver medallist Janeth Jepksogei led from start to finish and helped six women advance but the crowd was rightly fixated on Sarah Attar who ran 2:44.95.

QT #1: Pepperdine University lists Attar's PB as 2:40.

Position Lane Bib Athlete Country Mark .
1 3 2323 Janeth Jepkosgei Busienei KEN 2:01.04 Q .
2 2 2886 Ekaterina Poistogova RUS 2:01.08 Q .
3 7 1428 Rosibel García COL 2:01.30 Q .
4 4 2767 Elena Mirela Lavric ROU 2:01.65 q .
5 5 2285 Margarita Matsko Mukasheva KAZ 2:02.12 q .
6 9 2009 Neisha Bernard-Thomas GRN 2:03.23 q .
7 6 1276 Elisabeth Mandaba CAF 2:12.56 .
8 8 2378 Sarah Attar KSA 2:44.95 .
Intermediate Bib Athlete nat Mark
400m 2323 Janeth Jepkosgei Busienei KEN 58.71
600m 2323 Janeth Jepkosgei Busienei KEN 1:30.6


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