USA, USA: Both Boris Berian and Clayton Murphy Advance to Men’s 800 Final — Reaction and Analysis

August 14, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO — Four years ago in London, Kenya’s David Rudisha became a legend by winning his first Olympic gold medal in world-record fashion, leading wire to wire. He’ll have a chance to repeat on Monday as Rudisha, who was just third at the Kenyan Trials this year, looked like the Rudisha of his glory days and won his semifinal heat to advance with ease.

He’ll be joined by two Americans as world indoor champ Boris Berian and NCAA 800 (indoors) and 1500 (outdoors) champ Clayton Murphy snagged the second of two auto qualifying spots in heats #2 and #3 respectively.

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The 800 semifinals are traditionally an upset-plagued round as the field is field is cut from 24 down to 8. In the end, Monday’s 8-man final will feature 7 of the top 10 top seeds but that doesn’t mean there weren’t any surprises. The big surprise came in heat #3 where it was last year’s silver medallist Adam Kszczot who was sent home early. Unlike in the first round where Murphy ran a ton of extra ground, Murphy ran a tactically brilliant race as he hugged the rail for the entire race before moving up in the final 100 to auto qualify. Instead, it surprisingly was the experienced Kszczot, not the first-time Olympian Murphy, who was the one who ran like a neophyte. Kszczot used a lot of energy and made a big move towards the front with more than 200 meters remaining in his heat and ended up running out of steam in the final 100.

Adding insult to injury, he didn’t run hard through the line and that let up in the final meters cost him a spot in the final as he missed the second of two time qualifying times by just .05. In heat #2, last year’s bronze medallist Amel Tuka was just 4th and also failed to advance.

Here is a summary of the top 10 seeds and how they did today. The final is Monday at 9:25 p.m. Eastern.

  • David Rudisha, Kenya 1:43.35 – looked great winning heat #3
  • Alfred Kipketer, Kenya 1:43.73 – won heat #2
  • Pierre-Ambroise Bosse, France 1:43.88 – won heat #1
  • Taoufik Makhloufi, Algeria 1:43.92 – finished 2nd in heat #1 – same time as the winner
  • Brandon McBride, Canada 1:43.95 – 6th in heat #2
  • Ferguson Cheruiyot, Kenya 1:44.05A – 2nd time qualifier out of heat #1
  • Ayanleh Souleiman, Djibouti 1:44.06 – 4th in heat #2.
  • Boris Berian, USA, 1:44.20 – 2nd in heat #2
  • Adam Kszczot, Poland, 1:44.49 – failed to qualify by .05
  • Marcin Lewandowski, Poland, 1:44.59 – 1st time qualifier out of heat #1

Heat #1: Bosse Negative-Splits A 1:43 As Makhloufi Runs An Even Bigger Negative Split

Brazil’s Kleberson Davide gave the Rio fans a thrill by leading heat one through 400 in 52.03 followed by France’s Pierre-Ambroise Bosse. Bosse took the lead at 500 and at 600 (1:18.28) had 2-3 meters on last year’s 4th placer, Kenya’s Ferguson Rotich. Coming off the final turn, Bosse still had 2-3 meters on the field as reigning Olympic 1500 champ Taoufik Makhloufi came on strong to equal Bosse’s time by the finish (1:43.85). Makloufhi’s final 200 was incredibly fast as Bosse negative-split this one and closed with a 25.57 final 200 and yet he was caught by Makhloufi. Third and fourth ran hard through the line and would be rewarded with time qualification to the finals as Marcin Lewandowksi (1:44.56), who twice has finished 4th at Worlds, earned another shot at a medal as did Rotich (1:44.65).

1 2415 Pierre-Ambroise BOSSE FRAFRA 1:43.85 Q SB
2 2009 Taoufik MAKHLOUFI ALGALG 1:43.85 Q SB
3 2844 Marcin LEWANDOWSKI POLPOL 1:44.56 q SB
4 2695 Ferguson Cheruiyot ROTICH KENKEN 1:44.65 q
5 2749 Mostafa SMAILI MARMAR 1:45.78
6 2134 Kleberson DAVIDE BRABRA 1:46.19
7 2870 Andrés ARROYO PURPUR 1:46.74
8 2470 Michael RIMMER GBRGBR 1:46.80

Heat #2: Alfred Kipketer Looks Like The Real Deal

Alfred Kipketer, the 2013 World Youth and 2014 World Junior champ who won the Kenyan Trials this year at just 19, took the heat out in 24 seconds for 200 meters followed closely by American Boris Berian. At 400 (50.73), Kipketer and Berian were still 1-2 as Brandon McBride was 4th and Amel Tuka, last year’s bronze medallist, was 5th. Kipketer and Berian had gapped the chasers by a few meters at 600 (1:17.70) and never gave up the gap coming home. It was a perfectly set up race for Berian, who likes to run hard from the front. He was simply able to follow Kipketer the entire way and not have to worry about getting around people or making any tactical decisions.

1 2681 Alfred KIPKETER KENKEN 1:44.38 Q
2 3050 Boris BERIAN USAUSA 1:44.56 Q
3 2005 Yassine HETHAT ALGALG 1:44.81 PB
4 2107 Amel TUKA BIHBIH 1:45.24
5 2911 Rynardt VAN RENSBURG RSARSA 1:45.33 PB
6 2204 Brandon MCBRIDE CANCAN 1:45.41
7 2311 Andreas BUBE DENDEN 1:45.87 SB
8 2388 Mohammed AMAN ETHETH 1:46.14

Quick Thought: Berian is Ready for His First Final; Last Olympics He was Sitting at a Friends House Dreaming of This

If you’re not familiar with Boris Berian’s rags to riches story, get caught up on it as you might be hearing it a few times in the next few days. Berian went to DII Adams State and ended up dropping out and working at McDonald’s. Then he started training with the Big Bear Track Club last year and had tremendous success. This year he won the World Indoor title and now he’s got a shot at Olympic immortality. When asked what his thoughts are on making the Olympic final he said, “I’m excited.” When we asked him if it was different competing at the Olympics he said, “Surprisingly being at the Olympics as I’m not as nervous as I thought I’d would be. I was freaking out at the (Olympic) Trials. Compared to that I’m pretty calm.”

Four years ago, Berian was “chilling” with his old college roommate in Fredonia, New York, watching the Olympics on TV.

QT #2: Brandon McBride’s Great 2016 Likely Comes to an End as He Fails to Make the Final

McBride, the Canadian champ, had been running great since NCAAs, but that string ended today. “I made a lot of mistakes in the race and whatnot but I learned a lot from it. It’s been a long season, I’m just going to look to bounce back next year,” he said noting that likely this was his last race of his season, but he’d consult with his coach first. He said the mistakes were “not being in position” and added, “I just wasn’t in it today mentally. Hopefully, in the future, I can figure out the whole racing in a crowd thing… I got tangled up a few times, but there’s no excuse. I should have been in better position the first 150m. Actually looking back at it, it might have been a better idea for me to lead it.”

Heat #3: David Rudisha Looks Great For The 2nd Straight Day

Rudisha was magnificent from start to finish. He led at 200 (24 ish) and 400 (51.61), as he was trailed by Ayanleh Souleiman, Kszczot and Murphy. On the backstretch, Rudisha started to stretch it out a little bit and gapped the field by a small margin. Kszczot responded with a big move just before 600 to move into second. Contrast that to Clayton Murphy, who did nothing but hug the rail and wait until the homestretch. Coming off the final turn, the top 4 in the heat were well clear of everyone else. Rudisha kept his gap on the field the entire 100 and won by a large .50 as Murphy convincingly moved up to 2nd. Kszczot, who normally closes really well, didn’t close well today and then he ruined his chances of the final but not going all-out to the line.

1 2696 David Lekuta RUDISHA KENKEN 1:43.88 Q
2 3091 Clayton MURPHY USAUSA 1:44.30 Q PB
3 2843 Adam KSZCZOT POLPOL 1:44.70
4 2317 Ayanleh SOULEIMAN DJIDJI 1:45.19
5 2583 Mark ENGLISH IRLIRL 1:45.93
6 2595 Giordano BENEDETTI ITAITA 1:46.41 SB
7 2002 Amine BELFERAR ALGALG 1:46.55
8 2336 Hamada MOHAMED EGYEGY 1:48.17

Quick Thought #1: Did Clayton Murphy read our critique of his semifinal?

After the first round yesterday, we ripped Murphy’s tactics. He ran way too much extra ground and made way too many moves. Our favorite saying about the 800 is , ‘you have one move in an 800 –  use it wisely,’ and as a result we wrote, “At this level, you almost have to just run with the pack for 600 and see what you’ve got the final 200 rather than waste energy.”

Today, he wasted zero energy, ran almost exactly 800 and ran a perfect race.

If Murphy gets such another perfect trip in the final, he definitely can medal although it’s going to be tough as Rudisha looked surpreme today. Kipketer, who is just 19, was great in heat #2 as well, and the splits of Makhloufi and Bosse in heat #1 were very impressive. But if those guys get caught up in a battle with each other and waste energy, maybe Murphy could steal some hardware.

If we are coaching him, we’d tell him to do exactly what he did today – waste no energy. Run for 5th and hope you get 3rd.

Quick Thought #2: An Olympic final against Rudisha is a dream come true for Murphy

Murphy didn’t watch the 2012 Olympic final live, but in the ensuing four years, it’s become seared into his brain.

“I’ve watched that final probably thousands of times,” Murphy said. “I mean, I rewatch it all the time. I used to watch it before every 800.”

Murphy eventually allowed himself to dream of being in a race like that. He’ll get his chance Monday night.

“It’s a big goal to have but at some point, I can’t lie, I pictured it. Now it’s a reality. Now, it’s no dreaming, it’s putting stuff on paper.”

In a stacked final, it could take something very fast to medal — two Americans ran 1:42 four years ago and wound up fourth and fifth, but Murphy, who set his pb of 1:44.30 tonight, says that he’s not thinking in terms of times. He pointed out that he has no idea what he could run in a fast, rabbitted Diamond League race right now. We’d estimate at least 1:43.

“If it takes 1:42 to medal, I’ve gotta run 1:42,” Murphy said. “I think I’m in the best shape of my life. If that’s what it has to be to medal, then I’m ready for it.”

Overall Quick Take #1: Two Different Americans to the Final

In 2012, Duane Solomon and Nick Symmonds went 4-5 in the Olympic 800m final. If you told us then that US would have two different Americans in the 2016, final we wouldn’t have believed you. If you told us they would be Clayton Murphy and Boris Berian we definitely, definitely wouldn’t have believed you because we hadn’t heard of either one of them. Berian has just finished up his freshman year at Adams State while Murphy had just finished his junior year of high school in Ohio.

Overall Quick Take #2: The first 200 meters will be key in the final; will the field let Rudisha impose his will?

In all three rounds at Worlds last year and both rounds of the Olympics this year, Rudisha has excelled by getting to the lead by 200, running relaxed for the next 400 before cranking it up and pulling away from the field the last 200. Four years ago, there was really no way to counter Rudisha’s strategy — the only way to beat a guy who runs 1:40.91 from the front is to run 1:40 and no one else in history has been able to do that. But this time around, the rest of the field has some options. Someone could elect to get out super hard (say 23-low) and force Rudisha to decide whether to expend extra energy early fighting for the lead or relax and change up his preferred strategy. Or someone could try to make a hard move by Rudisha at the bell rather than allowing him to pick when he wants to move.

Rudisha may win even if he is forced to adjust tactics; he’s is that good. But it would seem foolish to allow the favorite to dictate terms in the final. Will anyone try to challenge him for the lead early in the race? The  problem is if they do they may be unwittingly sacrificing their own chances for a medal by using energy.

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