Sifan Hassan Runs 1:58.50 and Goes Home (So Do the Americans): The Madness of the Women’s 800 Semifinals

August 27, 2015

BEIJING — It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

The good news if you were a women’s 800 tonight at the 2015 IAAF World Championships? There’s a 42% chance you ran a personal best in the semifinals. The bad news? There’s a 67% chance you didn’t make the final.

For those who don’t want to do the math, 10 women PR’d tonight, but only eight advanced to the final. 1500 bronze medalist Sifan Hassan ran 1:58.50, an open PR by almost a second, and won’t be running in Saturday’s final. Great Britain’s Lynsey Sharp ran 1:59.33 and finished last in her heat.

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It was so difficult to make this final that we wonder if anyone will have anything left for it. Before tonight, Cuba’s Rose Mary Almanza (1:57.70), Switzerland’s Selina Buchel (1:57.95) and Germany’s Fabienne Kohlmann (1:58.37) held three of the four fastest season’s best in the field. None of them will be in the final.

Neither, for the first time since 2009, will an American. The country that has won the 4×800 title at the World Relays in each of the past two years won’t have a representative in the final after Brenda Martinez (2:00.27 for 6th in heat 1) and Molly Ludlow (2:00.43 for 7th in heat 2) failed to advance from their heats.

Hassan set a record by running the fastest time ever by a non-qualifier (her 1:58.50 eclipsed the 1:58.62 of Slovakia’s Lucia Klocova in 2007). Over the previous seven world championships, the average of the slowest time to make the final was 2:00.72. The slowest finalist this year, Renelle Lamote of France, ran almost two seconds faster than that (1:58.86).

Results below, followed by analysis.

Semifinal 1

Pl. Athlete / Team Cnt. Birth Result Score
1. Rababe ARAFI MAR 91 1:58.55 1179 PB
2. Nataliya LUPU UKR 87 1:58.57 1179 SB
3. Selina BÜCHEL SUI 91 1:58.63 1178
4. Fabienne KOHLMANN GER 89 1:59.42 1163
5. Sofia ENNAOUI POL 95 2:00.11 1151 PB
6. Brenda MARTINEZ USA 87 2:00.27 1148
7. Jennifer MEADOWS GBR 81 2:00.53 1144 SB
8. Caster SEMENYA RSA 91 2:03.18 1097

Semifinal 2

Pl. Athlete / Team Cnt. Birth Result Score
1. Shelayna OSKAN-CLARKE GBR 90 1:58.86 1173 PB
2. Renelle LAMOTE FRA 93 1:58.86 1173 PB
3. Olha LYAKHOVA UKR 92 1:58.94 1172 PB
4. Angela PETTY NZL 91 1:59.53 1161
5. Fiona BENSON CAN 92 1:59.59 1160 PB
6. Rose Mary ALMANZA CUB 92 2:00.38 1146
7. Molly LUDLOW USA 87 2:00.43 1145
8. Christina HERING GER 94 2:00.81 1139

Semifinal 3

Pl. Athlete / Team Cnt. Birth Result Score
1. Melissa BISHOP CAN 88 1:57.52 1198 PB
2. Marina ARZAMASOVA BLR 87 1:57.54 1197 PB
3. Eunice Jepkoech SUM KEN 88 1:57.56 1197
4. Joanna JÓŹWIK POL 91 1:58.35 1183 PB
5. Sifan HASSAN NED 93 1:58.50 1180 PB
6. Malika AKKAOUI MAR 87 1:59.03 1170 SB
7. Lucia KLOCOVÁ SVK 83 1:59.14 1168 SB
8. Lynsey SHARP GBR 90 1:59.33 1165

Quick Thought #1: Here’s a list of everyone who PR’d tonight

Athlete Country Old PR New PR Difference Made Final?
Melissa Bishop Canada 1:59.52 1:57.52 2.00 Yes
Marina Arzamasova Belarus 1:58.15 1:57.54 0.61 Yes
Joanna Jozwik Poland 1:59.63 1:58.35 1.28 Yes
Sifan Hassan The Netherlands 1:59.46 1:58.50 0.94 No
Rababe Arafi Morocco 2:00.37 1:58.55 1.82 Yes
Shelayna Oskan-Clarke Great Britain 2:00.60 1:58.86 1.74 Yes
Renelle Lamote France 1:59.39 1:58.86 0.53 Yes
Olha Lyakhova Ukraine 1:59.92 1:58.94 0.98 No
Fiona Benson Canada 1:59.94 1:59.59 0.35 No
Sofia Ennaoui Poland 2:00.57 2:00.11 0.46 No
Bishop's time wasn't just a PR; it broke Diane Cummins' 14-year-old Canadian record Bishop’s time wasn’t just a PR; it broke Diane Cummins’ 14-year-old Canadian record

It’s incredible that Shelayna Oskan-Clarke, who PR’d by 1.74 seconds was only the third-biggest improver on the night. Obviously Bishop’s 1:57.52 was the most impressive, as the 27-year-old, who didn’t even win the Canadian championship this year (that wa Fiona Benson), dropped two seconds off her PR to post the night’s fastest time and the second-fastest time in the world this year. Her 1:57.52 is a new Canadian record – erasing Diane Cummins’ 14-year old record of 1:58.39. Bishop was in the shape of her life coming in (she PR’d on July 14 in Lucerne and then won Pan Ams over Alysia Montano) but no one expected a 1:57 out of her tonight — in the semis! Arafi’s 1:58.55 — her second PR in as many days (she started Worlds with a 2:00.73 pb)– was just as shocking, especially considering she has run five races in the last six days (she also ran three rounds of the 1500 where she was 9th), including the last three in a row.

Usually running this fast in the rounds is pointless, but not tonight. With just two time qualifiers, it was clear after the first heat (when Buchel ran 1:58.63 for third) that it was going to take a very fast time to get to the final. And because six of the eight finalists ran PRs tonight (and the other two, Ukraine’s Natalia Lupu and defending champ Eunice Sum of Kenya had to run hard just to qualify), it doesn’t figure to hurt anyone in the final two days from now. What it does mean is that the final could be a bit slower if no one wants to push it following the blazing semifinals.

Quick Thought #2: It was a tough event for the Americans

The U.S. has been the world’s best nation at producing 800 runners the past two years, but tonight neither Brenda Martinez nor Molly Ludlow brought their A game, and that’s what it would have taken for either to advance to the final. Ludlow would have had to run 1:58.86 or faster to make it out of her heat, a time she’s bettered just once in her career, while Martinez required 1:58.57 or faster, something she’s done just three times in her life.

We spoke to Ludlow below (Martinez came through the mixed zone in tears and didn’t want to speak when we asked her) and she explained that she felt the U.S. has become a victim of its own success as it’s so hard to make the team that athletes like her and Martinez have to peak at USAs and then again two months later at Worlds while athletes from almost every other country can just focus on running their best in late-August.

Regarding tonight’s race, Ludlow said she felt good for the first 600 meters — much better than her prelim yesterday, when she scraped through on time — but that she simply couldn’t turn it over in the final 200. Ludlow said she didn’t know for sure why that was the case, but had some ideas.

“Maybe having like 10 races in two months (going back to the first round of USAs on June 25, Ludlow has raced 12 times plus a 1:57.2 time trial) maybe had a lot to do with it,” Ludlow said. “I kind of ran myself into the ground, but then again, I didn’t know I was going to be here.”

Of course, Ludlow was only added to the U.S. team on August 10 once Ajee Wilson scratched, so it’s likely she wouldn’t have raced as many times as she did (six) between USAs and Worlds had she known she was going back in June.

As far as Martinez is concerned, it’s not a total surprise that the reigning bronze medalist went out tonight. As Martinez noted when we spoke to her on Wednesday, she had been dealing with some peroneal hip issues in May and June, and though those cleared up by USAs, she just hasn’t put together the kind of season she did in 2013 or 2014. Last year, Martinez ran SBs of 1:58.84 and 4:01.36 and won the Diamond League 800 final in Brussels. The year before, she ran 1:57.91 to take bronze at Worlds (she broke 1:59 four times in all) and ran a 1500 PR of 4:00.94. This year, she broke 2:00 just twice all year (best of 1:59.06 at the Pre Classic) and didn’t race any 1500s. At 27, Martinez still has several years left, but given her (relative) struggles in 2015, going out in the semis at Worlds wasn’t a shock.

Quick Take #3: Eunice Sum was right to take it out fast, but she didn’t need to go out in 27 for the first 200

Sum made the final easily on time but for the first time this year, she didn't cross the line first Sum made the final easily on time but for the first time this year, she didn’t cross the line first

Even though Sum entered Beijing as the heavy favorite due to her 1:56.99 world leader (our pre-race preview is here), she made a smart decision in taking the race out hard as she ended up just third in her heat but easily made it in on time thanks to her 1:57.56. The only issue is the way she ran that 1:57.56, going out in 27.15 seconds for the first 200. Though that allowed Sum to get to the front early, she paid for it in the final 100 as she faded from first to third with Bishop and Arzamasova both running her down. It would have made more sense for her to come through with a more even split for the first 400 (maybe 28.6/28.7 instead of 27.15/30.17) if she was going to go out that fast.

It didn’t end up hurting her tonight, but as all three semis showed, there are plenty of women ready to run fast right now and Sum doesn’t have a Genzebe Dibaba-sized gap over the rest of the field that would excuse an early tactical error. Running from the front is fine, but if she does it inefficiently, she could get run down again — with much more on the line — in Saturday’s final.

Despite the fact she was only third in her heat today, we still think Sum is the favorite for the final. She’s ran 1:57 tonight and has run 1:57 or faster (she has a 1:56.99 pb) five times in her life. Only two women in the final have ever run 1:57 besides Sum and it was the two women who beat Sum tonight – Bishop and Aramosva – and they have only done it once in their life. Sum is much more likely than anyone else in the field to run 1:57 again. But if she wants to go out in 57, she shouldn’t tear up the first 150. Her first 150 was way too fast this year. The proper way to run 57 is 28 and then 29 and dare anyone else to beat her.

Tons of Post-Race Interviews Below.

Melissa Bishop

We said above that no one could have predicted Bishop’s massive pb, but maybe we shouldn’t have said that she said she knew she and her coach Dennis Fairall knew she was in great shape. Before you listen to the interview, you might want to read a nice feature on Bishop from Tuesday’s Windsor Star which reveals that she is probably coming on in leaps and bound late in the year simply because she has had to overcome a ton of setbacks in the last year (death in the family, sports hernia, ankle injury).

Fiona Benson

Bishop’s Canadian teammate was happy to PB and was also very pumped to see Bishop get the Canadian record. She said she could sense Bishop was in great shape as well.

Shelayna Oskan-Clarke

The 25-year old Brit who had 2:01.54 pb coming into the year and 2:00.60 pb coming into Worlds after a nice run in London said her coach Ayo Falola knew she was in excellent shape. ANd he should know as he used to coach Margaret Okayo.

Selina Büchel

The 24-year old Swiss obviously wanted to make the final but had a good perspective on things after it was over. She started the year with a 2:00.93 pb and that’s down to a 1:57.95 NR. The 1:58.63 that she ran tonight is the 2nd best of her career.

Sifan Hassan

Hassan said she just had nothing at the end of this one – the result of her bronze medal showing in the 1500. She still has regrets over that 1500 race as she thinks she could have challenged Dibaba if she’d only been closer to Dibaba when Dibaba made her move. Dibaba was proud of herself for trying the 800 as she said she never imagined she’d run the 800 at Worlds and said in the future if she doubles it would be a 1500/5000 double.


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