August 11, 2017
LONDON — The women’s 800 final is set and it will include the seven fastest women in the world in 2017 that ran in London including the three medallists from Rio in Caster Semenya of South Africa, Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi/Oregon Track Club and Margaret Wambui of Kenya and the two American training partners Ajee Wilson and Charlene Lipsey as they all advanced out of tonight’s semifinals.
The biggest development of the night was the fact that #8 seed, Brenda Martinez of the US, the 2013 silver medallist, didn’t move on to the final even though she finished just .20 off the win in heat #3 that featured the silver and bronze medallists from Rio in Francine Niyonsaba (2:01.11) and Margaret Wambui (2:01.19).
Taking Martinez’s spot in the final will be Angelika Cichocka of Poland, the 2014 world indoor silver medallist, who came in to Worlds with just a 2:00.91 seasonal best, but snagged an auto spot in heat #2 with a 1:59.32 clocking.
Other than Martinez, the biggest drama of the night was Britain’s Lynsey Sharp, the seventh fastest women in the world in 2017, was temporarily disqualified for fouling Lipsey at the end of heat 2 even though both women ended up ran a time that give them the two time qualifiers (there were 3 semis and the top 2 from each and the next two fastest make the final). Ultimately, the DQ was overturned.
This heat was run exactly how pundits expected it to be run. Ajee Wilson took things out in 57.82 and the Olympic fourth placer and Canadian record holder Melissa Bishop was right behind here. Those two basically stayed in the top 2 positions all the way to the finish as Wilson his 600 in 1:27.86 before winning the heat in 1:59.21 to Bishop’s 1:59.56. There was a tight battle for third and it was won by Benin’s Noélie Yarigo in 1:59.74 which temporarily proved to be significant as for a while it looked like that would get her into the final as a time qualifier before Sharp’s ridiculous DQ was overturned.
Heat # 2
Just like her training partner in heat #1, Charlene Lipsey led this one through 600 (28.1, 58.98, 1:29.55), but Caster Semenya was in this one so everyone knew they’d ultimately most likely be running for second. Sure enough, Semenya ran away from everyone and won the heat in 1:58.90. Behind her, there was a fierce battle between Lipsey and Sharp for what they thought would be the final auto qualifying spot. As the battled, Sharp drifted out into lane two and Sharp ultimately ran into her. As they were battling each other, Cichocka came on the inside and took the second auto spot in 1:59.32 to Lipsey’s 1:59.35 and Sharp’s 1:59.47. Sharp was initially DQ’d but thankfully it was overturned and all of the top 4 would move on.
With two Olympic medallists in this heat and 1:59.35 as the time to beat from the first two heats, one would think someone not named Niyonsaba or Wambui would take this one out and make sure it was possible to get a time qualifier but that’s not what happened. Niyonsaba led at 400 (60.89) and 600 (1:32.19) and at that point it was clear the time qualifiers weren’t coming from this heat. The close was fast and Martinez fought valiantly and stayed close to Niyonsaba and Wambui on the way home but was eliminated with her 2:01.31 third place clocking behind Niyonsaba’s 2:01.11 and Wambui’s 2:01.19.
Quick Take: Brenda Martinez gambled by not chasing the time qualifiers and lost
Martinez was in a very tough spot, with both Niyonsaba and Wambui in her heat. The exact same spot, in fact, as Ajee Wilson found herself in Rio last year. Last year, Wilson elected not to push the pace in her semi, instead trying for one of the two auto spots, and it wound up backfiring as she was third, .16 of a second behind Niyonsaba in second. Martinez followed the same gameplan today and got the same result as she finished third, .12 behind Wambui.
In defense of both Wilson and Martinez, they had two options and neither was appealing: either try to blast a fast time from the front, which is very difficult to do in your second race in 24 hours, or try to run for a top-two finish against two studs in Niyonsaba and Wambui.
Martinez said she considered pushing the pace but opted against it, in part because she didn’t know what time she needed to run (even though she was in the third and final heat).
“My coach just said you know what, hopefully it’s a fast race,” Martinez said. “I mean that’s something we don’t want to rely on but I think it’s a little bit scary knowing that hey, you probably need to go out in 56.”
Martinez ran a hell of a race and almost ran Wambui down for the second auto spot, so she deserves big props. But given that she needed to run 1:59.47 or faster to make the final — tough but doable — pushing the pace may have been the smarter approach with the benefit of hindsight.
We asked Martinez about training partner Boris Berian and she said Berian tore his achilles last year at or after the Pre meet. He still made the Olympic final, but had to have achilles surgery after the season which didn’t go well. He considered running USAs this year, but didn’t and is still undergoing platelet rich plasma therapy on his achilles and should be ready for next year.
Quick Take: Charlene Lipsey was lucky not to be disqualified, but she’s in her first World Championship final
Lynsey Sharp was initially disqualified in heat 2 before being reinstated, but there’s a case to be made that it should have been Lipsey, not Sharp, being disqualified as Lipsey drifted out into Sharp’s path coming down the home straight.
Lipsey said that she did not block Sharp intentionally.
“Caster’s in lane 1 and she’s kind of [motions running with arms and shoulders set wide apart] you know?” Lipsey said. “So I knew I couldn’t get to lane 1 so I had to run wide.”
Quick Take: Derek Thompson coaches ¼ of the World Championship 800 finalists
Derek Thompson coaches both Lipsey and Wilson and both women have ultimate faith in the man and his race plans. It’s rare to hear Wilson give an interview where she doesn’t mention following Thompson’s instructions, and those instructions have taken her a long way in her career, including an American record of 1:55.61 this summer.
Now Wilson is in her second World Championship final four years after her first. Not much was expected of her as a 19-year-old in Moscow, but Wilson will enter Sunday’s final expected to battle for a medal. How exactly she does that will depend on Thompson’s race plan, and Wilson has no idea what that is as of now.
And she may not find out until a few minutes before the race. Wilson said that Thompson only told her the game plan for today’s race five minutes before she went into the call room, but she’s fine with that as Thompson’s approach to practice is similar: he won’t tell Wilson what session she’s running until she arrives at the track on workout days.
Based on her form this summer and how easy she made her first two rounds look, Wilson appears to be a strong bet for a medal and could even challenge for gold. But Semenya, Wambui, Niyonsaba and Bishop have all looked good too and there are only three medals. That’s what makes finals so exciting.
Quick Melissa Bishop interview
Quick Take: Noélie Yarigo deserve props for (temporarily) making the final
It’s not often that someone from Benin makes a World Championship final. Yarigo should be proud of almost making her first Worlds final at the age of 31 (she also made Olympic semis last year). We don’t know her whole story but do know as a teen she had set the then Benin record of 2:11.61 in 2005. Then there are no results for her until 2012. We know she’s in the Air Force so maybe that explains the absence but she shows up in the results database again in 2012 when she ran 2:06. She ran that again in 2013 before running 2:00 in 2014 and ‘15 and 1:59 in ‘16 and ‘17.
If you speak French, here is a profile of her.