USA's Alysia Johnson Montano Makes Olympic 800m Final

August 9, 2012
London, England

All the big names in the women's 800m made the finals, including Alysia Johnson Montano, of the US who finished fourth last year at Worlds. Geena Gall and Alice Schmidt of the US did not advance. This is a flash recap with results and reaction from Montano. For an IAAF recap click here.

Heat 2
The drama was in heat 2 which featured Montano, 2009 World Champion Caster Semenya of gender controversy fame, and 2007 World Champion Janeth Jepkosgei. Definitely the toughest heat if all were in form. And Semenya, like last year's at Worlds, almost miraculously returned to form when it mattered, after struggling to break 2:00 for most of the year.

Montano led this race early on but she deviated from her patented front running style. She's been splitting 55 seconds consistently this year, but at the bell Jepkosgei led in 57.36.

Semenya was in contention throughout and showed her old form the final 200m to get the win in 1:57.67. Montano was in an unusual position, boxed in. Spots 2 thru 4 were fairly close in this one but Russian Elena Arzhakova got the final automatic spot (1:58.13) ahead of Jepkosgei (1:58.26) and Montano (1:58.42) . Fortunately for them this was the fastest heat and the two big names, Jepkosgei and Montano, would be the two time qualifiers for the final in this "group of death."

Afterwards, Montano knew she was fortunate to advance saying, "Luckily I happened to get in on time. I'm really, really thankful I get the opportunity to redeem myself (in the final)."

When asked about her new strategy of not front running, Montano said, "I don't know what you're talking about." She said she did not have a knew strategy, only that, "My coach talked to me about relaxing and I just feel like I relaxed too much... to the point where they made a move on the backstretch and I took a second to respond... it was a total, total error... (I) wasted energy..."

Alysia is in the final and after not making the Olympics in 2008, and she feels it was for a reason. Yesterday was the 100th birthday of her grandmother who lives in Britain. On Saturday, Montano will run the 800m final. "I'm going to step out there on the line and leave it on the line. I've been training for this for years and I've put all my eggs in this basket. I hope to just crush it," she said.

Quick Thought #1: The real question after this race is, 'How did Caster Semenya suddenly find her form?' All season long, Semenya has been struggling ito break 2:00 and finishing way, way back when she has faced Diamond League competition - in Rome she was 8th in 2:00.07 and in Monaco just three weeks ago on July 20th she was 9th in 2:01.67. Now she runs 1:57 and looks relaxed doing it.

Results and Heat 1 and 3 analysis below.

800 Metres - W   Semi-Final
Qual. rule: first 2 of each heat (Q) plus the 2 fastest times (q) qualified.

Position Lane Bib Athlete Country Mark .
1 6 2794 Caster Semenya RSA 1:57.67 Q (SB)
2 4 2844 Elena Arzhakova RUS 1:58.13 Q .
3 7 2323 Janeth Jepkosgei Busienei KEN 1:58.26 q .
4 5 3300 Alysia Johnson Montano USA 1:58.42 q .
5 9 2469 Halima Hachlaf MAR 1:58.84 (SB)
6 3 2074 Tintu Luka IND 1:59.69 (SB)
7 8 2767 Elena Mirela Lavric ROU 2:00.46 .
8 2 2009 Neisha Bernard-Thomas GRN 2:00.68 (SB)
Intermediate Bib Athlete nat Mark
400m 2323 Janeth Jepkosgei Busienei KEN 57.36
600m 2323 Janeth Jepkosgei Busienei KEN 1:27.92

Heat 1: Jelimo Wins As Schmidt Fails To Advance
In heat 1, the US's Alice Schmidt finished fourth in a heat where there was no doubt who were the two best in this heat as the defending Olympic champion, Pamela Jelimo, and this year's Russian champ, Ekaterina Poistogova, were in control of the two automatic qualifying spots 700 meters into this race.

The race started with a bit of a surprise as Jelimo didn't go to the lead. It was clear that Jelimo didn't want to lead as she sort of slowed down to settle into third just before 200. At the bell she was third and Schmidt 6th. On the second lap, Schmidt would move up to 4th but the top two were the class of this field with Colombia's Rosibel García a clear third.

Brit Lynsey Sharp who was put into the 2012 Olympics as the sole entrant even though Britain with a 'B' qualifier even though Britain had more than 3 'A' qualifiers never was a factor in this heat and finished seventh.

Afterwards, she was distraught, "I just got in a really bad position on the back straight. There was just a wall in front of me," said Sharp while failing in her attempt to hold back some tears. "I just didn't execute."

Quick Take (QT) #1: With Semenya's return to form, the race in many people's eyes is expected to be a battle between the Big 3 of Pamela Jelimo, Mariya Savinova  and Semenya - as those three women have won the last two worlds and the last Olympics. Well the young 21-year old Russian champ Poistogova was right with Jelimo in this one. Could Piistogova, who ran 2:02.11 as an 18-year old but hadn't improved on that until this year (she's run 1:57.93), contend for a medal? We'll find out on Friday.

Position Lane Bib Athlete Country Mark .
1 5 2329 Pamela Jelimo KEN 1:59.42 Q .
2 7 2886 Ekaterina Poistogova RUS 1:59.45 Q .
3 2 1428 Rosibel García COL 2:00.16 (SB)
4 6 3315 Alice Schmidt USA 2:01.63 .
5 4 3173 Nataliia Lupu UKR 2:01.63 .
6 8 1486 Rose Mary Almanza CUB 2:01.70 .
7 3 1878 Lynsey Sharp GBR 2:01.78 .
8 9 1990 Eléni Filándra GRE 2:04.42 .
Intermediate Bib Athlete nat Mark
400m 1990 Eléni Filándra GRE 1:00.15
600m 2329 Pamela Jelimo KEN 1:30.51

Heat 3: Savinova Wins As Niyonsaba Impresses
Last year's world champ Mariya Savinova ran relaxed early on and used her come from behind style to get the win here but the real story here was the runner-up showing of Burundi's Francine Niyonsaba. The 19-year old was a total unknown until July 1 when she won the African champs in what some are saying was just the third competitive 800 of her life. She followed that up with a 1:58.68 runner-up showing in Monaco and now another PR here.

Quick Take #1: Niyonsaba is a raw, raw talent and it shows in a refreshing (but perhaps performance debilitating way) when she races. We always say, "You only have one move in the 800, use it wisely" but Niyonsaba clearly doesn't know that rule yet.

In Monaco, she made about three different moves. Here she made a big, big move on the backstretch to go after the early leader but she somehow still was able to fight all the way to the finish. If

Watching her run is kind of what we think you'd see if you put a little kid who had never raced out on the track for an Olympic 800 - and we guess that's about right as she's super young and super inexperienced. She just tries so, so hard.

Position Lane Bib Athlete Country Mark .
1 7 2890 Mariya Savinova RUS 1:58.57 Q .
2 5 1130 Francine Niyonsaba BDI 1:58.67 Q (NR)
3 8 2285 Margarita Matsko Mukasheva KAZ 1:59.20 (PB)
4 4 2464 Malika Akkaoui MAR 2:00.32 .
5 2 2338 Cherono Koech KEN 2:00.53 (SB)
6 3 1260 Genzeb Shumi BRN 2:01.76 .
7 9 1318 Jessica Smith CAN 2:01.90 .
8 6 3291 Geena Gall USA 2:05.76 .
Intermediate Bib Athlete nat Mark
400m 2285 Margarita Matsko Mukasheva KAZ 57.79
600m 2285 Margarita Matsko Mukasheva KAZ 1:28.45

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