Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba Sprints to Gold in Women’s 800 as Ajee Wilson Has to Settle for Silver

by LetsRun.com
March 20, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. — Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba officially completed her comeback to the sport by winning her first global medal with 800m gold at the 2016 World Indoor Championships. Niyonsaba took control of the race just after 400m and never relinquished it, crossing the line first in a world-leading 2:00.01. Just .26 of a second behind her, US champion Ajee Wilson did her best to move on Niyonsaba, but couldn’t close the gap as she also won her first senior global medal with a 2:00.27 second place finish. After leading early, Kenya’s 2014 World Junior champion Margaret Wambui was able to hold off American Laura Roesler, taking the bronze in 2:00.44 as Roesler was first out of the medals in 2:00.80.

The Race

Ajee Wilson won the race to the break, taking the lead and going through 200m in 29.23 as Margaret Wambui sat on her shoulder, Francine Niyonsaba sat mid-pack and Roesler tucked into last place. On the second lap, Wambui took the lead and took the field through 400m in 60.56, but her lead was short-lived as Niyonsaba surged to the front just after the halfway mark and started to push, immediately putting a small gap on the rest of the field.

Niyonsaba's big move was too much for Wilson (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images for IAAF) Niyonsaba’s big move was too much for Wilson (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images for IAAF)

Hitting one lap to go in 1:29.78, Niyonsaba continued to lead with a small gap to Wambui in second and Wilson in third as they tried to close the distance. In the final 100 Wilson went wide around Wambui to make a bid for victory as she tried to run down Niyonsaba, but fell short as Niyonsaba won in 2:00.01 to Wilson’s 2:00.27. Coming from way back on the last lap to try and grab the last medal was Roesler, but she ran out of room as Wambui held on to third with Roesler 4th. Iceland’s Anita Hinriksdottir and Ethiopia’s Habitam Alemu were never really in contention as they finished 5th and 6th (2:02.58 and 2:04.61).

Results, quick takes and interviews below.

1 613 Francine NIYONSABA BDIBDI 2:00.01 WL
2 847 Ajee WILSON USAUSA 2:00.27
3 727 Margaret Nyairera WAMBUI KENKEN 2:00.44 PB
4 836 Laura ROESLER USAUSA 2:00.80
5 699 Aníta HINRIKSDÓTTIR ISLISL 2:02.58
6 652 Habitam ALEMU ETHETH 2:04.61

Update: Here’s a video of race:

Quick Take #1: Even If It Wasn’t 100% Predictable A Week Ago, Niyonsaba’s Victory Isn’t Very Surprising

Coming into these championships we called Niyonsaba the “wildcard” as she was a 1:56.59 runner back in 2012, ran 1:57.62 last year, but hadn’t raced at all this year and not even her coach, Mark Rowland, knew for sure what kind of shape she was in. However, after she pretty much “fartleked” her way to a 2:02.37 victory in the prelim, it was clear that she was a medal favorite, if not a gold medal favorite.

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Niyonsaba was very happy with the win and was pleased to cap a great weekend for Burundi, who also got a silver in the men’s 800 from Antoine Gakeme. Niyonsaba was full of praise for Rowland and her Oregon Track Club teammates, who she said keep her motivated. She said that Rowland told her to watch Wilson closely tonight and she stayed close behind her in the early stages before making her big move at the halfway point. Niyonsaba said that she had confidence in her speed, and when she was feeling good at 400, she decided to trust that speed and go for the win.

Quick Take #2: Ajee Wilson Felt If She Had Been More Aggressive She Could Have Won Gold

Post-race Wilson said that her plan when Wambui passed her was to sit behind her and outkick her, but she “wasn’t prepared” for Niyonsaba’s move. “I didn’t react fast enough and I kind of waited too late to make my charge and silver is what I get for that.”

Wilson was still happy to get her first senior medal calling it a “positive experience overall” and she acknowledged how far she’s come as a professional runner since she went pro back in 2013. Wilson said, “I’m really happy about it, but I find myself in a weird position. In 2013 outdoors, just making the final I was happy to be there, and now, although silver is great, I wish I could have walked away with gold.”

Tactically, Wilson said she thought if she hadn’t let Niyonsaba get as much a gap on them she would have had a better shot for gold and “relied too much on [Niyonsaba] coming back” rather than being aggressive and going after her.

Quick Take #3: Laura Roesler Was A Happy Fourth Place Finisher

Often times the 4th place finisher is the most unhappy person in the building, but that wasn’t the case for Laura Roesler. Post-race in the mixed zone she told us, “I know fourth is like that spot no one wants to be, but I really can’t say I’m on the verge of tears or disappointed. After the year I had last year, making this final is like all my dreams come true. … I’m walking away with my head held high. I’m fine with this.”

Tactically she said that she was fine running in last place as she had room to run, but that too much of a gap formed between the leaders and the women in front of her and that might have cost her a shot at a medal. Roesler explained that wasn’t necessarily the position she wanted to be in, but that it was a physical race and she kept getting cut off or blocked from moving up so settled into last rather than waste energy on making “a hundred moves.”

“Last year I was sitting on the couch watching World Champs outdoor and thinking ‘I can do that, I can be there’ and now I am and right outside medal position … it’s a good feeling,” she said.

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