Women's 1,500 Final: Disaster Strikes Twice As Morgan Uceny Gets Tripped Again And A Former Doper Wins Gold

By LetsRun.com
August 10, 2012
London, England

Disaster struck twice in the women's 1,500m.

First there was disaster for the USA's Morgan Uceny. In prime position to try and earn a medal with less than 400m remaining, Uceny was tripped and went down to the track, her medal hopes gone. Falling at the Olympics is heartbreaking in its own right, with four years of training cruelly tossed aside. For Uceny, the pain was even more gut wrenching, as last year at the World Championships, Uceny, who would end the year ranked #1 in the world, was tripped in the 1,500m final with 540 meters remaining. Two years in a row Uceny's dreams were improbably crushed by a fall.

This year, there was no getting up for Uceny. Uceny got on her hands and knees, and then realized her Olympic medal hopes were over. She slammed her hands to the track as the field sped away. She then slammed them again, and again. She remained on the track twenty meters past the finish, on her hands and knees, sobbing. Meanwhile, the race for gold was cruelly going around the track.

It turned into a double disaster for track and field fans less than a minute later when Turkey's Asli Çakir Alptekin, who once served a two-year doping ban, won the tactical race after a 58-flat last lap in 4:10.23 and her compatriot Gamze Bulut, who has dropped her PR from 4:18.23 to 4:01.18 this year, finished second in 4:10.40. The bronze medal went to 2007 and 2009 world champ Maryam Jamal of Bahrain in 4:11.26.

Alptekin crossed the finish line, got down and kissed the track. Meanwhile, just meters away, Uceny was still on her knees, sobbing. No one in the field, not even teammate Shannon Rowbury, who had ended up in 6th, half a second out of the medals, consoled Uceny. Ultimately Uceny got up, sobbing with a bloodied leg, and exited the track.

Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde has an excellent article on Uceny, "Games' saddest sight: Morgan Uceny's anguish."

The Race
The race was tactical from the start and Bulut, who turned 20 the day after the opening ceremonies, took the field through ridiculously slow opening fractions with Jamal right on her outside. Throughout most of the race, the Americans stayed in basically the same position. Rowbury was in on the rail in third, whereas Uceny was on the outside in about sixth always just behind the eventual race winner.

The opening lap was super, super slow as 400 was reached in 75.12. Things only moderately picked up the next 400, as 800m was in 2:23.98 (2:07 for 700 for the winner). The pace picked up a little by 1,200 (3:26.88), as this race was decided the final 300m.

To be truthful, nothing happened until just after the bell when Uceny went down.

And the sad thing is, she was doing everything she could to make sure she wouldn't fall, as shown by this screen shot just 11 seconds before Uceny went down.

Having watched the race replays several times, what happened is clear in our minds. Just after the bell, Natallia Kareiva of Belarus, who was running on the rail behind and two people over from Uceny, almost went down, probably after making contact with Ethiopia's Abebe Aregawi, who was trying to move up in the middle as much of the field was running three wide at this point. Kareiva had to work hard to save herself and her arms lunged forward as she did her best not to fall. That disrupted things a bit and then in the reaction to that (it seems that Aregawi probably came forward a bit but it's impossible to say for sure), Aregawi and Uceny bumped (or one would say Uceny was clipped from behind if you are a Uceny fan) and Uceny went sprawling to the track.

As Uceny's left foot was going backwards it bumped into the right thigh of Aregawi and then when Uceny's left foot moved back forward, it hit her own lower right leg instead of the track and sent her sprawling to the ground.

The following very grainy screen shots show you what happened.

Natallia Kareiva Almost Falling

Uceny's Left Leg Hitting Aregawi's Right Thigh

Uceny's Left Leg Taking Her Right Leg Out

Uceny's Dream Is Now Over For at Least 4 Years

Uceny Slamming Her Fist To The Ground

After the fall, the real racing began on the backstretch, as the final 300 would be covered in a quick 43.35. With roughly 275 meters to go, Bulut was passed by Alptekin and Alptekin would never give up the lead. The fall didn't hinder the 2012 world leader Aregawi much if any at all, as she found herself in second on the backstretch, even though she was just 11th roughly 40 meters before the bell.

With 150 meters remaining, Alptekin led with Aregawi still in second and Bulut and Jamal side by side in third and fourth. All the way down the homestretch, Alptekin's lead remained roughly three or four meters, as a good battle behind her was waged for the silver and the bronze. Five seconds from the finish, the three of Aregawi, Bulut and Jamal were side-by-side competing for the two remaining medals.

But Aregawi's big move from 11th to 2nd would prove to be too much, as she'd stumble and stagger home fifth as Bulut, who had been temporarily left behind by Jamal at the 150 mark, closed the best to nab silver with Jamal getting bronze.

The American Rowbury, who ran most of the race saving ground in third on the rail, had found herself in fifth at the bell. With 200 left, she was tied for sixth with former two-time world champ Tatyana Tomashova, who like Cakir once served a two-year doping ban. Tomashova would close well to finish fourth, as she is the one who passed Aregawi just before the line.

"I am disappointed of course. I was right there. I was getting really lucky throughout the race," said Rowbury to USATF. "I tried to go for it in the last 100 but didn't quite get it."

Rowbury may not have helped Uceny off the track, but she did express sympathy for Uceny, calling it "horrifying" to Pat Forde. "My heart goes out to her. If you lose a race, it's supposed to be because you didn't have it, not because you fell."

Post-Race Reaction - No One Asks The Gold Medallist About Her Doping Except LRC
It definitely was Turkey's day, as Asli Cakir Alptekin and Gamze Bulut swept the top two medals. Both have improved significantly in 2012, with Alptekin improving from 4:02.17 to 3:56.62 and Bulut from 4:18.23 to 4:01.18.

The translator at the press conference was not the best, but Alptekin and Bulut were quick to praise "Turkish power."

Alptekin said, "We came here to take the gold and silver medals for this competition. We wanted two medals and we got them. It's like gaining two gold medals. Every athlete dreams of a medal in the Olympic Games. This is the Turkish power."

Bulut, who would have only been a good collegiate runner last year if she was in the US, but now has an Olympic silver, also praised "Turkish Power." She said, "I was not the favorite before this competition but I did run a 4:06 in qualification and 4:01 in the semifinal and now (that) is my personal best. We take home two medals and I would like to say again, this is the Turkish power."

Bulut indicated that her and Alptekin are close, saying, "We are like sisters and we run every competition together."

As to whether "Turkish power" might be something in a syringe, no one in the press conference about Alptekin about her doping ban. Granted, the press conference for the 1,500m was not that long and not many questions were asked, as everything had to be translated into Turkish (for athletes who speak, say, Russian or Spanish, the conferences go much quicker as the journalists wear headphones and the answers are immediately translated into English; this doesn't exist for Turkish).

After the press conference, LRC did ask Alptekin through her interpreter about the doping ban. Alptekin was asked what was different with her situation now than when she had the ban, and what she would say to people who are skeptical of her win. According to the translator, Alptekin's response was, "This situation came from my ex-coach. After this problem, I broke my relationship with my ex-coach and I have a new coach now (her husband)."

Jamal, a two time world champion, was content to finally have an Olympic medal. She told the press, "It was really a beautiful moment for me. Considering the injuries I had and the years I had to wait to win an Olympic medal, winning a bronze medal is a great achievement. I only ran three races this season and I wasn't even expected to be here as my injuries made me lose hope and confidence." She added, "I have won a lot of medals throughout my career but this bronze medal is second to none. It is really hard to express the joy and the emotion I have at the moment." She also talked about making a "mistake" and bumping Bulut in the last 150 and having to regain her stride.

Morgan Uceny did not talk to the media after the meet. She was taken to a medical area and never went through the mixed zone. A ton of journalists wanted to talk to her.

She did post on her Facebook (HT Joe Battaglia):

    "I've never experienced such a heart breaking moment. I put myself in the perfect position coming into the bell lap and felt so relaxed and just ready to roll...I even thought to myself "I AM getting a medal" and the next thing I know I'm skidding on the track, out of contention. As soon as it happened I knew it was over,and I couldn't control the emotions. I was able to see my family tonight, and I don't know what I would have done without them. They all shared my tears but also were the rocks of support that I needed. I feel like I'm in a dream, and that I will wake up tomorrow to August 10th to race the 1500m final over....but no. I can't thank all of you enough for the TREMENDOUS amount of support given to me. It's been unbelievable and has made me realize was special people are in my life, so thank you. And here's to the journey ahead, cheers."

Lisa Dobriskey of the UK, who won a silver in 2009 and competed this year despite suffering from blood clots earlier in the year and doctors telling her not to train, was disappointed with her 10th-place finish.

She said to the news service, "I was really disappointed, it was so slow for so long and the girls got a couple of strides ahead, so game over. It was not in my game plan to speed up the pace, if I was to change my game plan, I would be closer to the front."

Quick Take (QT) #1: The people who are saying on the message board that Uceny has no one but herself to blame for this fall don't know what they are talking about, as she clearly was going out of her way to not run in the pack.

QT #2: We'll briefly ignore the fall and the doping past of the winner to say something about someone who didn't get mentioned in our write-up.

With such a slow pace, we were kind of surprised that Russian champ Ekaterina Kostetskaya, herself a former hurdler and 800 runner, didn't do better than ninth. It just shows the kick isn't about who is the fastest, but is about speed reserve - who has the most in the tank.

Kostetskaya's story is an interesting one. Her parents were involved with track and field. Well, saying that is an understatement, as this article says her mother was Olga Dvirna, who ran 3:54.23 for 1,500m. Kostetskaya got involved in athletics when she was 12 or 13. Then in 2001, she moved to the US to live and train with a friend of her parents who lived in Jonesboro, Arkansas. After two years of high school in the US, Kostetskaya went back to Russia where she finished high school. Then, she came back to the US and went to college at Texas State, where she graduated in 2008 and was a 400m hurdler and then an 800m runner. In 2008, she finished fourth at the Russian Olympic Trials at 800m. She was moved up to third and on the Russian Olympic team after the doping scandal that took down Tomashova disqualified 7 Russian athletes.

Kostetskaya decided to try her mom's event last year and ended up running 4:01 in her third 1,500 ever. This year she had run 3:59 and won the Russian Champs.

Maybe her inexperience at the 1,500 got to her here. On the Olympic final, she told LRC it was "unexpectedly slow." She had various scenarios in her head, but "never, never imagined it would be that slow." Ultimately she thought "such a quick change of pace got me I think. Maybe I got too tense and didn't quite catch the switch of gears and that was it for me."

Since Kostetskaya had mentioned the seven-person doping scandal, LRC asked her if she thought doping was more prevalent in Russia. She said, "I'm not really aware of that. It doesn't bother me because I'm not a part of it. I just do my job and train really hard," she said noting that she has lived in Australia the last three years. She is engaged to Aussie Steve Hooker, who until Saturday night was the Olympic champion. She said her mother coaches her and comes to Australia for key parts of the year.

Position Bib Athlete Country Mark .
1 3084 Asli Çakir Alptekin TUR 4:10.23 .
2 3083 Gamze Bulut TUR 4:10.40 .
3 1259 Maryam Yusuf Jamal BRN 4:10.74 .
4 2899 Tatyana Tomashova RUS 4:10.90 .
5 1697 Abeba Aregawi ETH 4:11.03 .
6 3314 Shannon Rowbury USA 4:11.26 .
7 1181 Natallia Kareiva BLR 4:11.58 .
8 2995 Lucia Klocová SVK 4:12.64 .
9 2872 Ekaterina Kostetskaya RUS 4:12.90 .
10 1854 Lisa Dobriskey GBR 4:13.02 .
11 1879 Laura Weightman GBR 4:15.60 .
12 2341 Hellen Onsando Obiri KEN 4:16.57 .
. 3322 Morgan Uceny USA DNF .
Intermediate Bib Athlete nat Mark
400m 3083 Gamze Bulut TUR 1:15.12
800m 3083 Gamze Bulut TUR 2:23.97
1,200m 3083 Gamze Bulut TUR 3:26.88

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