July 21, 2017
Ajee Wilson went to Herculis meet – the IAAF Diamond League track and field meet in Monaco – looking for the American record and she left with it as she ran a huge personal best of 1:55.61 to knock more than two full seconds off her previous best (1:57.67) and destroy Jearl Miles-Clark‘s American record of 1:56.40 which had stood since 1999.
Wilson’s incredible run wasn’t good enough to get her a victory or a runner-up finish but she did put a scare into the Olympic gold and silver medallists. The Olympic champ Caster Semenya closed in 28.55 to win in a world-leading and new personal best of 1:55.27 (.01 faster than what she ran to win gold in Rio; her time was also a DL record) as Rio silver medallist Francine Niyonsaba broke 1:56 for the first time to grab second in 1:55.47 (previous best 1:56.24).
The top three weren’t the only ones to run fast as the top 7 finishers in the race ran at least a seasonal best. Sifan Hassan, the 2017 world leader in the 1500, showed she’s going to be tough to beat in London as she was fourth in a huge pb of 1:56.81 (previous best 1:58.13). Canada’s Melissa Bishop ran one-hundredth of a second faster than what she did to grab fourth in Rio, 1:57.01 (a new Canadian record), and that only placed her fifth today as Lynsey Sharp (1:58.01) and Brenda Martinez (1:58.43) ran seasonal bests to get sixth and seventh.
Semenya had said she wanted to run fast and asked for a 55-second first lap and that’s exactly what the rabbit, American Laura Roesler, delivered (55.37) but Semenya was nowhere close to her. Semenya was the first racer but her split was just under 57 (56.7) and she was followed closely by Niyonsaba (56.9) and Wilson (57.3) with the Olympic third and fourth placers Margaret Wambui and Bishop just behind Wilson.
Semenya, who was right with Roesler for most of the first 200, backed off the pace even more on the third 200 which she’d run in just 30 flat. As a result, between 500 and 600, Niyonsaba had pulled up nearly even with Semenya with Wilson just behind Niyonsaba as the three ran nearly three abreast.
As they rounded the final turn, it was a four-person race between Semenya, Niyonsaba, Wilson and Bishop, who had stayed on the inside throughout. Coming off the final turn, Semenya, Niyonsaba and Wilson were three abreast once again. Who would take it?
For 50 meters nothing separated them, but then Semenya did what she has consistently done over the last few years and gradually pulled away. This time she didn’t pull away until the final 50 but in the end she got the job done and extended her unbeaten streak in the 800 to 26 races, counting prelims.
Semenya admitted she was surprised the others gave her such a fight.
“I showed my strength, it was a hard fight until the end. The girls surprised me how good they ran. The pace was ok for me I wanted to go around 56. But I did some small technical mistakes which slowed me down. I knew I should not allow Nyionsaba take the lead. My coach back home Jean Verster will be amazed. I think I can run really really fast we are training for that,” said Semenya. “Now we still must decide, maybe tonight what I will do in London, if only 800 or also 400 or 1500. Main thing is to stay healthy and then a top result will come.”
As for Wilson, she said she’ll head back to the US for a few weeks to get ready for Worlds.
“US Record? Waouh! I hadn’t seen the time yet! It felt so good to be competitive again, it was great! Now going home in Philadelphia to prepare for London,” said Wilson to race organizers after it was over.
|1||Caster SEMENYA||RSA||1:55.27 WL, MR||8|
|2||Francine NIYONSABA||BDI||1:55.47, NR||7|
|3||Ajee WILSON||USA||1:55.61, NR||6|
|4||Sifan HASSAN||NED||1:56.81, PB||5|
|5||Melissa BISHOP||CAN||1:57.01, NR||4|
|6||Lynsey SHARP||GBR||1:58.01, SB||3|
|7||Brenda MARTINEZ||USA||1:58.43, SB||2|
|9||Margaret Nyairera WAMBUI||KEN||2:02.13|
Quick Thought: Semenya’s win streak continues but only after a fight
The women’s 800 is going to be a very interesting event to watch in London. Semenya has won 26 races in a row counting prelims but two of her last three wins have been very tight. At the Pre Classic in May, she won over Margaret Wambui, who was last in 2:02.13 today, by just .10. Today she won by .20.
None of Semenya’s victories in 2016 were that narrow. After the Olympics, she beat Niyonsaba by .32 in Zurich but her two closest pre-Olympic victories were won by .88 and .91 of a second.
Quick Thought: History repeats itself
The parallels between Wilson’s record today and Miles-Clark’s in 1999 are numerous. Both races were run in Europe (Miles-Clark’s AR came in Zurich) and both came when the American finished third in the race about 1/3rd of a second behind the winner in a race where the top 4 all broke 1:57. Miles-Clark lost by .36 – Wilson by .34.
American fans will hope history doesn’t continue to repeat itself at Worlds. At the 1999 Worlds, Miles-Clark was 4th.
1999 Zurich Top 4
1. Maria Mutola MOZ 1:56.04.
2. Svetlana Masterkova RUS 1:56.37
3. Jearl Miles-Clark 1:56.40
4. Ludmila Formanova CZE 1:56.50
Quick Thought: Good news and bad news for Ajee Wilson
The good news for Ajee Wilson: she ran the race of her life tonight and was rewarded with an American record that will likely stand for some time (unless the 23-year-old Wilson lowers it herself). The bad news: it was only good enough for third place. In an alternate reality where the Court of Arbitration for Sport doesn’t overturn the hyperandrogenism guidelines in 2015, we’re talking about Wilson as the clear favorite for gold at Worlds and one of the greatest 800 talents of her generation. The fact remains that, other than Margaret Wambui, no one else has beaten Niyonsaba or Semenya since the start of 2016.
Still, Wilson’s run tonight was spectacular and by pushing Niyonsaba and Semenya to the line, she will have hope that not just a medal, but a gold medal, is possible in London.
Quick Thought: Down goes Wambui
Entering tonight’s meet, Semenya, Niyonsaba and Wambui were undefeated against the rest of the world since the start of the 2016 outdoor season. That streak finally came to an end in Monaco, though it took a real stinker from Wambui (last in 2:02.13) for it to happen.
Talk about the meet and race on our fan forum:
- Official 2017 Monaco DL Discussion Thread – Oh baby what a meet
- Ajee Wilson 1:55.61!!!!! Smashed American Record!!!!
- My God. Evan MF Jager just ran his last 2 laps in 2:03 and ran 8:01 to win the men’s steeple
- Bolt 9.95 in Monaco – can he win worlds?
- Centro will be ready. 3:34 is not that bad
- Could Botswana challenge America in the 4×4?
- Semenya is a consistent sandbagger