Women’s 800 Semis: The World’s Fastest Woman and Margaret Wambui Go Home As Ajee Wilson Cruises

By LetsRun.com
March 3, 2018

BIRMINGHAM, England — Coming into the women’s 800 at the 2018 IAAF World Indoor Championships, many expected the final to turn into a battle between the 2nd, third and fourth place finishers at the 2017 Worlds in Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba, America’s Ajee Wilson and Kenya’s Margaret Wambui (who were also the three medalists at the 2016 World Indoors in Portland). However, that won’t happen on Sunday as Wambui this morning became the latest disqualification casualty at a Worlds that will long be remembered for the staggering amount of DQs handed out to runners for grazing a tiny white line on the first turn.

Wambui’s heartbreak proved to be fortuitous for American Raevyn Rogers as she snuck into the final as a time qualifier as a result.

Niyonsaba was all smiles after her 1st race of the year Niyonsaba was all smiles after her 1st race of the year

While Wambui is out, Wilson and Niyonsaba both looked great as Wilson was in total control of heat #1 from start to finish before Niyonsaba, who was running her first race of the year, took control of the third heat over the final 300.

We quickly recap the heats before getting to our quick take analysis.

Heat 1
Ajee Wilson led wire to wire but she was content to let things slow down until she hammered it home over the final 200, hitting splits of 29.63, 61.42 and 1:32.88 before winning in 2:01.91, meaning her final 200 was a 29.03. With the modest pace, the women behind Wilson were taking a big risk but second placer Habitam Alemu of Ethiopia, who is the world leader at 1:59.69 this year, ended up getting in on time in 2:02.18 as she edged Angelika Cichocka of Poland, the 2014 World Indoor silver medallist.

1 894 Ajee WILSON USAUSA 2:01.90 Q
2 673 Habitam ALEMU ETHETH 2:02.18 q
3 802 Angelika CICHOCKA POLPOL 2:02.25
4 770 Līga VELVERE LATLAT 2:02.98

Heat 2
Raevyn Rogers had the lead as they came off the break but she didn’t really seem to want it and Canada’s Jenna Westaway took it with force as she jumped out a to a big 6-7 meter lead on the rest of the field by 400 after running 27.94 and 57.47. Westaway slowed a great deal on third lap (1:29.44 at 600) as Rogers moved into 2nd by the bell and then into the lead on the backstretch. However, Rogers, who ran a lot of extra ground throughout this heat and never looked comfortable with her positioning early, faded on the way home as she was passed by both Brit Shelayna Oskan-Clarke, the British national champ (5th at Worlds in 2015), who won the heat in 2:01.76 and Selina Buchel of Switzerland (2:01.84), the 2014 4th placer.  

Purists probably will be upset to learn that Kenya’s Winny Chebet, who ran 1:58.13 last year outdoors but made the 1500 final yesterday, wasn’t scratched didn’t make an honest effort in this one as she never was in it, running 2:18.31.

1 700 Shelayna OSKAN-CLARKE GBRGBR 2:01.76 Q
2 831 Selina BÜCHEL SUISUI 2:01.84 q
3 885 Raevyn ROGERS USAUSA 2:02.17 q
4 638 Jenna WESTAWAY CANCAN 2:03.91
5 765 Winny CHEBET KENKEN 2:18.31 SB

Heat 3
Former NCAA champ Natoya Goule of Jamaica took this one out in 28.29 and 59.70 (31.41) for the first two laps before Niyonsaba went to the front around 500 meters. From there, Niyonsaba ran unchallenged and cruised to the win as 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Margaret Wambui moved up well to grab a time qualifier in second place. Unfortunately, Wambui became yet another victim of the World Indoor officials as she was DQ’d for stepping on the line on the first turn.

1 614 Francine NIYONSABA BDIBDI 2:00.99 Q SB
2 748 Natoya GOULE JAMJAM 2:02.49
3 692 Mhairi HENDRY GBRGBR 2:02.65
4 852 Olha LYAKHOVA UKRUKR 2:03.81
768 Margaret Nyairera WAMBUI KENKEN DQ

Quick Take: Ajee Wilson ran smart and looked strong today and she’s so good no one talked about how she had a really difficult heat draw

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Wilson has made tactical mistakes in the past, most notably in the 2016 Olympic semifinals when she chose not to push the pace even though Margaret Wambui and Francine Niyonsaba were in her semi (and only two auto spots to the final). But she gets it right tactically more than she gets it wrong. That’s especially true when she’s the class of the field, as she was today. She got out front, controlled the pace, and closed well (29.03 for her last lap).

If you’re backing Wilson for gold, she showed you everything you could have wanted today as she easily handled the 2018 world leader in Ethiopia’s Habitam Alemu as well as the 2014 silver medallist in Cichocka, but Francine Niyonsaba represents an even greater challenge in tomorrow’s final.

If Wilson wasn’t so good, everyone would have been talking about how difficult her heat draw was. They seed the Worlds based on 2018 indoor times and Wilson had only run 2:00.90 coming in.

Quick Take: Raevyn Rogers stepped up for Team USA to run the 4×400 heats this morning

Rogers did not look great in heat 2 of the 800 as she held the lead on the last lap but was passed by both Shelayna Oskan-Clarke and Selina Buchel before the line to finish third. Fortunately for Rogers, she made the final on time, in part because Canada’s Jenna Westaway took the race out in 57.47 for the first 400 and in part because Wambui would get DQ’d.

It will be hard for Rogers to medal tomorrow since Wilson and Niyonsaba likely have two of them locked up, but there are only six women in the field, so Rogers has a chance.

Rogers was busy this morning as 80 minutes after her 800 prelim, she had to run anchor for the U.S. in the prelims of the 4×400. Rogers said she was told she asked to run the 4×400 early in the week once Phyllis Francis scratched from the team due to injury (400 specialists Courtney Okolo and Shakima Wimbley were unavailable today as they have to run the individual 400 final this evening).

Rogers was okay with it as long as her coach Derek Thompson was okay with it, and he gave her the go-ahead as long as she could run the anchor leg (which allowed Rogers to run easier as the U.S. already had a big lead).

“I’m used to doing it at nationals with Oregon and everything,” Rogers said. “So it was something that I wouldn’t just shut down because I have experience with.”

Rogers did enough for the U.S. to qualify but said she doesn’t expect to run the 4×400 final tomorrow.

She said she doesn’t think running an extra race today will affect her adversely for tomorrow’s 800 final as she “trusts her recovery.”

If Rogers is looking to surprise in the final tomorrow — and remember, she came close to beating Wilson at USAs — she needs to run a more tactically-sound race. Rogers ran a ton of this race in lane 2 and didn’t appear comfortable in even contemplating going near the rail, perhaps because she was used to dominating at the collegiate level. Check out her positioning on each of the turns.

1stturn-rogers 2ndturn-rogers 3rdturn 4thturn 5thturn 5th-straight 6thturn 7thturn

She needs to save more ground, relax and wait to make a big move.

Quick Take: Jenna Westaway wanted to make it fast, but not 57.47 at 400 fast

Westaway trains with Boris Berian in the Big Bear Track Club and she tried to channel Berian by setting a fast pace up front today. She did succeed in getting to the lead, but got carried away in her global championship debut and came through halfway faster than she intended (57.47). Once she saw the 400 split, Westaway thought to herself “That’s spicy — it’s gonna hurt [over the final two laps]” and she was right as she wound up with an ugly positive-split of 57.47-66.44.

“It felt like what I wanted to come through in, I think it was just the adrenaline was up, the excitement was there,” Westaway said. “Got a little too excited, and paid for it dearly.”

Chalk this up as a learning experience for the 23-year-old Westaway, who has made good strides this indoor season (her overall PR coming into the year was 2:01.89, and she ran faster than that in all three of her 800s before today). Going to the front wasn’t a bad idea, especially with only the heat winner advancing automatically. She just needs to learn how to manage the adrenaline of a major championship better than she did today.

Quick Take: Francine Niyonsaba may not have been 100% recently but she looked great today

Niyonsaba, the reigning champion, is coming off a training stint in South Africa, and we had heard from someone in the mixed zone that she may have been banged up this year. We asked Niyonsaba about it after her race today, and she said, “at the moment, I’m feeling better.”

When pressed, she suggested that she has not been 100% this year.

“When training, you get some injuries, but you try to do, you sacrifice,” Niyonsaba said.

The important thing is that Niyonsaba looks healthy now, and she was clearly the best in her heat today, running 2:00.99 to lead all qualifiers. She looks to be a good bet for gold or silver tomorrow, as Wilson is the only woman in this field who has even challenged her on the circuit over the past two years.

Quick Take: Add Margaret Wambui’s name to the list of ticky-tack DQs

If you thought the officials would let up this morning after yesterday’s tidal wave of DQs, you were wrong. Wambui was judged to have stepped on the line on the first turn and as a result was DQ’d, making her the 21st athlete to be disqualified in these championships (hat tip Flotrack). Watch the video and make the call for yourself.

We do feel sorry for Wambui as she clearly didn’t gain much of an advantage from that step. We were actually the first to inform her that she had been DQ’d in the mixed zone (we told her off-camera as thought it would be unfair not to give her a heads up) and she was too shocked to do an interview with us. However, after what happened yesterday, every athlete in today’s meet should have been on high alert about staying in their own lane. This DQ was not out of the blue.

MB: You be the judge: Is this clearly a lane violation by Margaret Wambui? 

Talk about today’s action on our messageboard. MB: Official 2018 IAAF World Indoor Day 3 Live Discussion Thread.

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