Women’s 800 Preview: Alysia Montaño And Brenda Martinez Try To Prevent Mariya Savinova From Three-Peating At Home

by LetsRun.com
August 5, 2013

Seven women have broken 1:59 this year, including Americans Alysia Montano and Brenda Martinez.

1. Francine Niyonsaba BDI1:56.72 – 20-year-old is undefeated, having won in Shanghai, Eugene and Paris.
2. Malika Akkaoui MAR1:57.64 – 25-year-old edged Montaño for 2nd in Paris.
3. Alysia Montaño USA – 1:57.75 – 5-time US champ was 5th in 2012, 4th in 2011.
4. Brenda Martinez USA1:58.18 – US runner-up is on fire this year.
5. Janeth Jepkosgei KEN1:58.71 – 2007 World champ is 29 now.
6. Mariya Savinova RUS1:58.75 – Defending World and Olympic champ is undefeated this year. Turns 28 on August 13th.
7. Margarita Mukasheva KAZ1:58.96 – 27-year-old is undefeated on year, including WUG win. Olympic semifinalist last year.

Which one of them emerges at the World Champion at the 2013 IAAF World Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Moscow?

In our minds, there are two people who we think are the leading candidates for the gold medal,Russia’s reigning World and Olympic champion Mariya Savinova and  newcomer Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi.

Update: Just as we were putting this up on the website, we’ve learned the Niyonsaba is out of Worlds with an injury according to this article in French. We are leaving the original preview up, but now Savinova is a huge favorite.

The Two Favorites – The Youngster And The Established Champion

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A victory lap at home would be all the sweeter for Savinova.

Savinova is certainly the favorite in our minds. She’s won the last two years in stellar times (1:55.89 in 2011 and 1:56.19 in 2012 at the Olympics), is undefeated on the year and is competing on home soil.

What’s there not to like?

Not a whole lot.

To be truthful, we feel like she’s most likely going to get her third victory in three years but we are a little bit nervous about the fact that she’s only run 1:58.75 coming into this one. The last two years, she’s run faster coming into Worlds/Olympics. In 2011, she’d run 1:56.95 prior to Worlds and in 2012 she’d run 1:57.42. In both of those years, she showed up at least once on the European circuit. This year, she hasn’t raced in Europe.

Is something wrong? Or is she just making sure she has all of the training she needs to win in front of the hometown fans?

We don’t think anything is wrong, as she’s been racing less in recent years. In 2011, she had five outdoor races before Worlds. Last year, she had three. This year, she’s had two.

That makes sense to us. She’s getting older and people generally race less the older they are, and she’s getting richer so she financially needs to race less, but it still makes us a tiny bit nervous. However, she’s come up big when it’s mattered most the last two years and we think she does it again.

If Savinova is on her game and loses, we think the winner will be Niyonsaba.

Niyonsaba burst onto the scene last year seemingly out of nowhere. The 18/19-year-old often raced like she’d only run a few 800s in her life as she made multiple moves in races and the 800 is an event where our coaching philosophy is, “You only have one move – use it wisely,” and yet she still did well. Now 20, she’s a bit more experienced. She comes into Moscow as a lightly-raced undefeated World Leader as she had one race each in May (Shanghai), June (Eugene) and July (Paris). However, the race in Shanghai was far from tactically brilliant. so we’re not sure she’s got the racing tactics down quite yet.

What About The Americans?

Yes, an American victory by Alysia Montaño or even Brenda Martinez is within the realm of possibilities but not likely to happen (it just went up a ton, though, now that Niyonsaba is out).

We’ll start our analysis of the Americans by talking about the 25-year-old Martinez. The fact that we are talking about her medalling, and possibly winning a World title, shows she’s enjoying an incredible year, as she’s never been to Worlds before. Already this year, she’s lowered her PRs big time at 1,500 (from 4:06.96 to 4:00.94) and 800 (1:59.14 to 1:58.18) after switching to coach Joe Vigil last year.

Martinez’s come-from-behind racing strategy is a good way to possibly sneak a bronze, particularly if some of the frontrunners misjudge the pace and haul out too hard. But if she’s going to medal, we think she’s going to have to run the best race of her life. A 1:58 won’t win bronze in our estimation. 1:57.42 won bronze in 2011 and 1:57.53 won bronze in 2012 and Martinez’s best is 1:58.18. PRing by half a second and running 1:57-mid isn’t going to be easy and won’t be possible at all unless Martinez learns to get out a little bit faster. If Martinez goes out faster, it’s unchartered territory for her. Higher risk and higher reward. It’s what she’ll have to do if she wants a medal, especially if she wants a gold or silver.

America’s more realistic gold medal threat comes in the form of five-time US champion Alysia Montaño. She’s come close to medalling in 2012 (4th) and 2011 (5th) and has run 1:57 in each of the last four years.

Paris was the last big DL meet with a loaded women’s 800 before Moscow and Montaño ran very well there. She led for 750 meters before Niyonsaba ran her down in the final 100 to get the win in 1:57.26 to Akkaoui’s 1:57.64 and Montaño’s 1:57.75. If you watch that race (embedded on the right), you’ll certainly believe she’s got a shot to win in Moscow, but only if she runs smarter.

She’s got amazing speed for an 800 runner, but she’s got to pace things better and run more even. We had her 200 splits in Paris being 27.7, 28.8 (56.5), 30.5, 30.75. There is no way she wins if her third 200 is over 30. She very well could have the lead at 400. So get your stop watch out and time her next 200, if it’s over 30, no way is she winning.

There is one reason for concern regarding Montaño. After her strong run in Paris, she was a DNF in Madrid. A message board poster says he watched her finish off a workout on July 31st and said she looked good, but we don’t know what happened in Madrid and if everything is 100%:

MB: Alysia Montaño – DNF in Madrid – Anyone know what happened?
MB: Watched Alysia Montañoo finish up a track workout today…

Who Else?

The #2 performer in 2013 is Morocco’s Malika Akkaoui. The 25-year-old bowed out in the Olympic semis last year and only had a 1:59.54 PR coming into the race. But if you watched the Monaco race above, you saw she almost ran down Niyonsaba and did run down Montaño. We’ve already talked about Martinez, who also only had a 1:59 PR coming into the year, as being a player, so it would be wrong to not talk about Akkaoui. A medal is a real possibility for her but we doubt it’s gold as how much faster is she going to go than 1:57.64 considering she started the year at 1:59.54?

There are two other sub-1:59 performers on the year and we talk about them last as we aren’t very high on them.

2007 World Champ Janeth Jepkosgei is 29 now. She didn’t win the Kenya Champs, losing to her protegé Eunice Sum, and Sum is someone who really is probably a 1,500 runner. Sum has run more 1,500s than 800s on the circuit this year and even ran the 3,000 at Prefontaine last year (8:54). Sum could medal but don’t count on Kenya challenging for gold.

2013 World University Games champ Margarita Mukasheva of Kazakhstan bowed out of the Olympic semis last year. With a 1:58.96 PR, it’s going to be tough for her to medal at age 27.

Montano held off a fast-closing Martinez in Des Moines, can she do it again in Moscow?

Quick Take #1: We think if the Americans are going to dream of gold, they have to pace things better. Montaño can’t run the third 200 over 30 and Martinez has to run the first lap under 59 or she’s got zero shot.

Update: But Niyonsaba’s withdrawal is huge for both of them. We thought there were two people no American was going to beat – Savinova and Niysonaba – and now one of them is out. The 800 was already down this year, so maybe Martinez could medal without a big PR – at 1:58-low or 1:57-high instead of 1:57-mid. 

QT #2: We didn’t mention 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Ekaterina Poistogova in our preview as quite honestly we didn’t realize she was running as she only has a 1:59.39 seasonal best. The 22-year-old was 7th in Eugene before picking up wins in Morocco and Oslo. Last year coming to the Olympics, she’d run 1:57.93 and three times had run under 1:59. As a result, we don’t think she’s a gold medal contender but she’s a medal contender.

QT #3: It’s worth noting who isn’t in Moscow this year. 2009 World champ and 2011 and 2012 silver medallist Caster Semenya isn’t competing even though she’s undefeated on the year, as she hasn’t run faster than 2:01.86. 2008 Olympic champ Pamela Jelimo hasn’t raced an 800 all year even though she was fourth in the Olympics last year.

More From The LRC Vault: 2012: Women’s 2012 Olympic 800 Meter Final: The World Champion Is Now The Olympic Champion As Mariya Savinova Wins Comfortably Over Caster Semenya
*2011: Women’s 800m Final – Down Goes Semenya

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