Women’s 800: Caster Semenya (1:55.33 NR) Runs the World’s Fastest Time Since 2008 & Leads Field to Slew of PBs; Francine Niyonsaba 1:56.24 NR, Molly Ludlow 1:57.68

By LetsRun.com
July 15, 2016

Caster Semenya is in a league of her own. This is the reality right now, and anyone who didn’t like the results of the women’s 800 in Monaco tonight better get used to it. Barring a last-minute change of heart by the Court of Arbitration for Sport — which suspended the IAAF’s hyperandrogenism guidelines last summer — the podium in next month’s Olympics in Rio will likely consist of the top three women across the line tonight: South Africa’s Semenya, Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba and Kenya’s Margaret Wambui (Wambui, who shared lane 4 at the start was later disqualified for running part of the first turn in lane 3).

Semenya and Niyonsaba set PBs in the race, one of the finest 800’s in history (there have been many faster, deeper races, but almost all are tainted by suspicions of heavy performance-enhancing drug usage). Semenya uncharacteristically led wire-to-wire, running 1:55.33 to set a new South African and Diamond League record — the fastest time in the world since 2008. Niyonsaba followed in second with a national record of her own (1:56.24). Wambui ran 1:56.64 before being DQ’d — a time that would have won any other race in the world held since the start of 2013.

Semenya pulling away Semenya pulling away

The rest of the field took advantage of the fast pace up front, as American Molly Ludlow rebounded from Olympic Trials heartbreak to take fourth in 1:57.68, moving to #7 on the all-time U.S. list. In all, five of the 10 finishers PR’d, with five (six counting Wambui) breaking 1:58.

The Race

Race announcers Tim Hutchings and Steve Cram said that Semenya had requested 55 seconds for the opening 400 — an uncharacteristic move given that she’s employed sit-and-kick tactics on the Diamond League circuit this year. Semenya showed she was serious in the opening 200, hitting the front with Niyonsaba — normally the front runner in DL races — on her shoulder. The order remained the same at the bell as the rabbit hit it in 56.04, with Semenya a meter back and the field strung out behind her.

Niyonsaba remained just behind, and by the time they hit the backstretch, Wambui had joined them to the outside of Niyonsaba. Semenya eased off the gas on the backstretch, looking as if she were out for an afternoon jog, but no one passed her. Semenya, Niyonsaba and Wambui were your top three as Semenya reached 600 in 1:27.08.

Dominance Dominance

Ludlow, seventh with 250 to go, began moving up toward the end of the backstretch. By 150 to go, she was fourth and threatening to join the top group of Semenya, Niyonsaba and Wambui. Could she hang with the three women who have been unbeatable in 2016?

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The answer was quickly shown to be no. Semenya, as she has in every race this year, hit another gear as she rounded the final bend and began to pull away. Niyonsaba and Wambui could not hold on, but Semenya’s move caused them to accelerate as well as they dropped Ludlow and the rest of the field.

Semenya stormed away for the win in 1:55.33, the fastest time in the world in eight years, with Niyonsaba holding off Wambui for second. Ludlow battled bravely down the home straight but 2013 world champ Eunice Sum — running by far her best race of the season — passed her for fourth (upgraded to third) late. Ludlow wound up fifth (upgraded to fourth) in 1:57.68.

As fast as 1:55 is, we’re confident Semenya is capable of more. Her splits — we had her at 26-30-31-28 — are not ideal as runners rarely their final 200 that quickly in an 800 pb. Put her in an average college men’s race and she probably breaks — or at least runs close to — the women’s world record of 1:53.28.


800 Metres - Women                                            
    1 Semenya , Caster                 RSA    1:55.33         10        
    2 Niyonsaba , Francine             BDI    1:56.24          6        
    3 Wambui , Margaret Nyairera       KEN    1:56.64 DQ       4        
    3 Sum , Eunice Jepkoech            KEN    1:57.47          3        
    4 Beckwith-Ludlow , Molly          USA    1:57.68          2        
    5 Sharp , Lynsey                   GBR    1:57.75          1        
    6 Cichocka , Angelika              POL    1:58.97                   
    7 Alemu , Habitam                  ETH    1:59.68                   
    8 Tsegay , Gudaf                   ETH    1:59.77
   9 Santiusti , Yusneysi             ITA    2:00.04
   10 Moh , Clarisse                   FRA    2:03.71
      Belanovich , Katsiaryna          BLR        DNF

Splits: 400: Belanovich 56.04
600: Semenya 1:27.08

Video of final Race


Quick Take #1: Barring some unforeseen circumstance, the medals in Rio are spoken for

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The women’s 800 meters was once one of the most unpredictable events in track and field. No longer. The dominance of Semenya, Niyonsaba and Wambui has sucked the drama out of the event, and if you read our preview, you knew exactly what to expect — those three going 1-2-3, running times that no one else in the field could hope to match. And there’s no reason to expect anything different in Rio.

The IAAF hyperandrogenism guidelines were not perfect, but in a situation like this, there is never going to be a perfect solution. Athletes like Semenya obviously have a natural genetic advantage; the question is whether the rules should be designed to accommodate the few (those with hyperandrogenism) or the many (those without it). CAS chose to favor the few, and the results have been predictable.

We don’t like talking about hyperandrogenism after every women’s 800 — we’d much rather discuss tactics, or Ludlow’s brilliant 1:57. But hyperandrogenism towers over every other issue in the women’s 800; it would be irresponsible to ignore it.

Quick Take #2: Want to know why Alysia Montaño views her career as a farce?

Look at the list of the world’s fastest 800 women since Montaño turned pro in the summer of 2008:

Pamela Jelimo, Kenya 1:54.01
Caster Semenya, South Africa 1:55.33
Mariya Savinova, Russia 1:55.87
Tatyana Andrianova, Russia 1:56.00
Janeth Jepkosgei, Kenya 1:56.07
Francine Niyonsaba, Burundi 1:56.24
Svetlana Klyuka, Russia 1:56.64
Yekaterina Kostetskaya, Russia 1:56.67
Hasna Benhassi, Morocco 1:56.73
Eunice Sum, Kenya 1:56.99
Yuliya Krevsun, Ukraine 1:57.32
Alysia Montaño, USA 1:57.34

Between hyperandrogenism and Russia’s state-sponsored doping, there are A LOT of question marks about the names on that list. If our life depended on it, we’d say everyone but maybe two of the people ahead of her were with either dopers or impacted by hyperandrogenism.

Quick Take #3: For the second year in a row, Molly Ludlow rebounds from disappointment to record a big PR

Last year, Ludlow was fourth by .04 at the U.S. Champs and responded by breaking 1:59 for the first time her next time out in Paris. This year, Ludlow was fourth by .04 at the Olympic Trials and responded by breaking 1:58 for the first time in Monaco. She is now #7 on the U.S. all-time list; since the start of 2013, only Ajee Wilson has run faster among Americans (by .01). Big congrats to her for putting those disappointing results in the rearview mirror and responding like a champ.

Ludlow, of course, will not be in Rio this year. That prompted tweets from top runners Erin Finn and Cas Loxsom.

If you watch the replay of the women’s 800 at the Trials, they have a point — when Montaño went down in front of her, it clearly threw off Ludlow as well, though she was still able to close for fourth.

But if Montaño and Martinez don’t tangle, who is to say that they — and not Ludlow — wouldn’t have finished in the top three? Martinez looked set to win and Kate Grace clearly had the most left in the final 100 among the remaining runners. Would Ludlow have beaten one of them and/or Ajee Wilson? We don’t think so. Ludlow entered the final 100 even with Chrishuna Williams and was unable to outkick her.

Duane Solomon went a step further.

We disagree. There is no perfect selection policy, but the U.S.’s Trials system is fair (and dramatic). If a committee had to choose, how in the world would they choose in an event like the 100 hurdles where we have so many super qualified athletes? And there’s a big difference between running 1:57 in a time trial (as Ludlow did last summer before Worlds) or in a fast Diamond League race and winning a championship race. Plus if you start selecting the team, you are ruining one of the greatest track meets held in the world – the U.S. Olympic Trials. 

Quick Take #4: Eunice Sum is rounding into form

After the big three, Sum was the best of the rest tonight in fourth, clocking 1:57.47, her best time in over a year. Sum, a medallist at the last two World Championships, is peaking at the right time. She was only 10th in the Rome DL on June 2 but was second to Wambui in the Kenyan Trials before running super fast tonight. On her absolute best day, she might have a chance to touch a medal in Rio (she did run 1:56 last year) but with Semenya, Niyonsaba and Wambui dominating, that appears unlikely.

Quick Take #5: Wambui’s DQ was absolutely the correct call

Because there were 12 starters, some women had to share lanes. Wambui was one of them, sharing lane 4 with Poland’s Angelika Cichocka. Wambui lined up on the inside of the lane, but Cichocka got off the line better. Instead of sitting behind her or trying to go by on the outside, Wambui tried to move by on the inside and as a result moved into the outer half of lane 3. Sharing a lane in an 800 is tough, but Wambui obviously gained an advantage by cutting in (running less distance) and had to be DQ’d. Hat tip to Paula Radcliffe for pointing it out on Twitter.

Talk about this amazing race on our message board.

MB: SEMENYA jogs 800m in 1:55
MB: Molly Ludlow 1:57.68 (1 Full Second) PR! Now #7 all Time on US List

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