Women’s 800 Prelims: Ajee Wilson And Laura Roesler Look Excellent In Qualifying As Francine Niyonsaba Shows She’s Here To Contend

by LetsRun.com
March 19, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. — The women’s 800 at the 2016 World Indoor Track and Field Championships in Portland, Oregon kicked off today with a field of 17 being cut down to just 6 as only the heat winners and next three best times advanced to Sunday’s final. Tough qualifying meant that  some very accomplished women didn’t make it, but both Ajee Wilson and Laura Roesler thrilled the American crowd by winning their heats while Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba ran the first indoor race of her life like a pro. Kenya’s Margaret Wambui, Iceland’s Anita Hinriksdottir and Ethiopia’s Habitam Alemu were the three time qualifiers.

Heat 1 – Ajee Wilson Goes Wire-To-Wire

Wilson went out hard in this one and as the runners broke from their lanes coming out of the first turn, she beat everyone else to the rail, where she led the field through in 28.72. Wilson slowed it down over the next lap and as she came through in 59.66, Kenya’s 2014 World Junior champ Margaret Wambui and 18-year-old Ethiopian Habitam Alemu both made bids on the outside to seize the lead from Wilson. That immediately spurred Wilson into action, and she stepped on the gas, stringing the field out single-file. She led by three meters at the bell (1:29.15) but that margin narrowed over the final 100 as Wambui attacked again. However, Wambui was never able to get the last step she needed to draw level with Wilson and the American hung on to win the heat in 2:00.61. Wambui wound up second just behind, with Iceland’s Anita Hinriksdottir, Alemu and Ukraine’s Anastasiia Tkachuk following in that order.

Quick Take #1: Some thanks are in order for Ajee Wilson

The women in the first heat should be thanking Ajee Wilson. By a setting a quick pace and serving as the rabbit for the field, she helped the women behind her run fast and consequently all three time qualifiers came from this heat.

Quick Take #2: Wilson isn’t worried about tiring herself out for tomorrow’s final

Wilson always leans heavily on coach Derek Thompson’s advice and said that he told her to get out and make sure she was in no lower than second at the first turn. Wilson wasn’t expecting to have to start working hard at the halfway mark but when Wambui and Alemu challenged her, she knew she had to respond.

Wilson’s 2:00.61 was the ninth-fastest performance in the world this year, but she said she’ll be able to rebound from it and run well in tomorrow’s final.

“Some of my best races have come from running rounds so I’m not too worried,” Wilson said.

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Heat 1 Results

1 847 Ajee WILSON USAUSA 2:00.61 Q
2 727 Margaret Nyairera WAMBUI KENKEN 2:00.68 q SB
3 699 Aníta HINRIKSDÓTTIR ISLISL 2:01.96 q
4 652 Habitam ALEMU ETHETH 2:02.34 q
5 808 Anastasiia TKACHUK UKRUKR 2:02.60

Splits: 200 – 28.72, 400 – 59.66, 600 – 1:29.15

Heat 2 – A Solid Indoor Debut For Francine Niyonsaba

The question on everyone’s minds going into heat 2 was what would we see out of Burundi’s 1:56.59 woman Francine Niyonsaba? After a year absence from the sport in 2014 she busted out with a 1:57.62 in September of last year, but hasn’t raced at all in 2016 and actually had never raced indoors. Despite that, she didn’t look rusty at all as she burst to the lead at the break and took command of the field going through the first 200 in 30.63 seconds. On the second lap Niyonsaba continued to lead with Great Britain’s 2012 European Champion Lynsey Sharp moving into second place as they went through 400 in 62.18.

From there the race was just a big battle for second place as multiple athletes moved up into the runner-up position, but could not come close to getting around Niyonsaba. First it was Sweden’s Lovisa Lindh and then Morocco’s Malika Akkaoui who held second as the field went through in 1:32.83 with one to go. In the final 200m Niyonsaba motored away from the field to win the heat in 2:02.37 as Sharp was the best of the rest finishing second in 2:02.75.

Quick Take #1: Francine Niyonsaba Announces Herself As A Medal Favorite

With her inexperience indoors and no races this year before today, Niyonsaba was an unknown quantity coming into these championships, but she wasted no time today in making it clear she is here to compete. She completely controlled this heat from start to finish and her vs Ajee Wilson in the final should be a great race.

We caught up with Niyonsaba in the mixed zone afterwards and she explained that her absence in 2014 was due to a hamstring injury and that her poor results early in 2015 were a result of having no training partners while she was training in Kenya. She returned to Burundi midway through last summer and was able to start working out with other people, which is why she believes she was able to run so fast at the end of the year.

Niyonsaba moved to Oregon in January and began working with the Oregon Track Club’s Mark Rowland on a trial basis. The 22-year-old Niyonsaba said she made the decision as she wants to really focus the Olympics this year and believes Rowland will help in that respect. So far both coach and athlete have been very happy with the arrangement and Niyonsaba said she wants to stay in Oregon and train under Rowland permanently.

Niyonsaba may be capable of a lot more this year as she told us that she doesn’t think she’s in great shape yet.

Quick Take #2: Lynsey Sharp was not overly disappointed to not make the final

Sharp didn’t make it to the final but said that she has not been focused on indoors and has instead used this season to work on tactics — she feels that the tight confines of the 200-meter track makes indoors more tactically difficult than outdoors.

Sharp ran 2:00.30 in Boston on February 12 but struggled in her two pre-Worlds races (5th at Millrose, 3rd at British Champs), but Sharp said the latter two were much harder races as the 2:00 was essentially a time trial while the others contained several capable women.

Heat 2 Results

1 613 Francine NIYONSABA BDIBDI 2:02.37 Q NIR
2 672 Lynsey SHARP GBRGBR 2:02.75
3 794 Lovisa LINDH SWESWE 2:03.44
4 758 Hedda HYNNE NORNOR 2:03.96
5 737 Malika AKKAOUI MARMAR 2:04.00
6 729 Liga VELVERE LATLAT 2:05.20

Splits: 200 – 30.63, 400 – 62.18, 600 – 1:32.63

Heat 3 – Laura Roesler’s Great Tactics And Positioning Gets Her The Win

Heat 3 was out at a respectable pace as the field fought for the lead in the first 100m with Cuba’s Rose Mary Almanza winning the race to the break and taking the field through a first 200 of 29.98. Laura Roesler sat right on her shoulder, almost running the entire first 400m in lane 2, not wanting to get boxed in on the rail. Just before the 400, Roesler moved past Almanza into the lead with a first half split of 63.71. The slow second 200 meant that only the first woman across the line would advance from this heat so the race for the win was on.

In the third lap Ethiopia’s Tigst Assefa tried to get around Roesler, but to the excitement of the home crowd Roesler surged to hold her off and continued to lead through 600m in 1:35.03. In the first meters of the last lap Roesler started to put some distance on the pack, but Assefa quickly started to regain ground and was only meters behind Roesler with 100 to go as GB’s Adelle Tracey fought a losing battle in third and the rest of the field was well gapped. In the final straight Roesler moved into lane 2 forcing Assefa to go wide and while she was able to gain on Roesler, it was too little too late with Roesler taking the heat in 2:04.38 to Assefa’s 2:04.55.

Quick Take #1: Laura Roesler’s body feels the same as last week, but her mind is in a much better place

Roesler said she felt tired at last week’s U.S. Indoor Champs, when she really had to battle to finish second. After today’s race, she said that fatigue was still present, but her mindset has changed drastically.

“I felt tired last week and I was thinking to myself I felt tired,” Roesler said. “Today I felt tired and I was thinking to myself, ‘I don’t feel tired and you’ve got to stick to top two, like absolutely no other spot.’ So mindset was everything.”

Roesler said she wouldn’t necessarily be disappointed if she leaves Portland without a medal, but said she will give it all in the final and knows any one of the six women is capable of winning.

Quick Take #2: The Word Of The Day Is Front-Running

With cutthroat qualifying procedures, the indoor 800 can be a complete crapshoot as far as who makes the final. Today the women who most easily advanced were the ones who got out front and controlled the race, guaranteeing a spot in the final by getting into that front position and holding it. With no wind or adverse weather conditions indoors, leading doesn’t take the toll that it does outdoors and the shorter straightaways makes moving up from back in the pack not as easy to do. Athletes often don’t want to be the ones out in front leading, but at least in the indoor 800 it is often a good strategy.

Heat 3 Results

1 836 Laura ROESLER USAUSA 2:04.38 Q
2 653 Tigst ASSEFA ETHETH 2:04.55
3 679 Christina HERING GERGER 2:05.39
4 674 Adelle TRACEY GBRGBR 2:07.05
5 644 Rose Mary ALMANZA CUBCUB 2:08.07
6 708 Natoya GOULE JAMJAM 2:08.23

Splits: 200 – 29.98, 400 – 63.71, 600 – 1:35.03

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