U-S-A! U-S-A! A Star-Spangled Men’s 800-Meter Final Is Set in Doha
September 29, 2019
DOHA, Qatar — American track and field fans have a lot to be excited about for Tuesday’s men’s 800 final here at the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships as American Donavan Brazier will enter the race as the favorite and Team USA will have three of the eight finalists. In addition to Brazier, Americans Clayton Murphy and Bryce Hoppel advanced to the final from this evening’s semis. And in fact, there will be four US citizens in the final as Puerto Rico’s Wesley Vazquez made it as well.
No American man has ever won gold in the men’s 800 at Worlds, which began in 1983, and only one other time in history has Team USA put three men into the 800 final (1995 — none of them medalled).
Murphy was the only one of the three Americans who didn’t automatically advance to the final as one of the top 2 in each of the three heats (top 2 were auto Qs, the next 2 fastest qualified on time). Running in heat #1, where the first two runners went out in sub-49, Murphy was 5th at the bell (50.29) and sixth at 600 (1:17.41 for Murphy, 1:15.81 for the leader). He moved up to third at the finish in 1:44.48 but was unable to get by Kenya’s Ferguson Rotich, the fastest man competing at Worlds, who ran most of the first 600 just behind Murphy, for the second auto spot. In the end, Murphy easily advanced on time as the winning times in heat 2 (1:44.87) and heat 3 (1:45.67) were slower than 4th in heat #1. Puerto Rico’s Wesley Vázquez ended a much-deserved winner in heat #1 as he kept it going after his bold sub-49 first lap and ended up winning the heat in 1:43.96.
In heat #2, favorite Brazier looked superb, just like he did yesterday. He employed the same tactics as well, running in the top 3 throughout before accelerating off the final turn. He got the lead around 750 and maintained it until the finish line.
The slowish first lap of 52.17 prevented any time qualifiers from coming from this heat with Kenya’s Emmanuel Korir being the casualty in third, even though he only ran .32 slower than Brazier. American Brannon Kidder moved up nicely from 7th at 600 to place 4th.
The third heat was even more tactical (53.09 first lap) and on the backstretch the field was running five wide as people battled for position. 2015 bronze medallist Amel Tuka separated from Canada’s Brandon McBride coming off the final turn and went on to win the heat in 1:45.63. The real drama was who would get second and the answer ended up being NCAA champ Bryce Hoppel, who moved up from 4th to second over the final 100, running 1:45.95 as Spain’s Alvaro De Arriba ran 1:46.09.
Quick Take: Hoppel: “Hey, Look for the sweep” — the dream is still alive for the Americans
Hoppel made some waves a few minutes after his semifinal when at the end of a live interview with NBCSN’s Lewis Johnson for the US broadcast he told Johnson to “look for the sweep” in the final. Here is how the end of their interview played out.
Lewis Johnson: “What do you think about this historic moment for the final?”
Hoppel: “Oh I’m so excited. Donavan and Clayton are just a great group of guys to be with. I’m really excited to see what we can do.”
Johnson: “Ok go get with them and talk about what’s gonna happen. Congratulations, good luck.”
Hoppel: “Hey, look for the sweep.”
When Hoppel came through the mixed zone a few minutes later, he was still on cloud nine. As for the prospects of a US sweep of the medals, Murphy has medalled before, at the Olympics, and Brazier is favorite for gold in Doha, so Hoppel acknowledged that he is the weak link in the US trio.
“I think Clayton and Donavan got it covered, those two guys are amazing runners,” Hoppel said. “As long as I do my part, I think the US has a good shot.”
Frankly, the fact that Hoppel is even in the final is incredibly impressive. Exactly one year ago, September 29, 2018, Hoppel finished 29th in the Rim Rock Classic, a cross country race in Lawrence, Kansas. He finished out that cross country season (ending with a 32nd place showing at Big 12s), then piled on an indoor and outdoor collegiate campaign for the University of Kansas before heading to USAs, Pan Ams, and now Worlds.
Counting relays and prelims, Worlds will be Hoppel’s 40th race of 2019 — an average of one race every 6.8 days since January 1 — but he’s more than happy to line up for what will be the biggest one of his life.
“Racing is what I love to do, so the more, the better, I think,” Hoppel said. “It’s been a long year, but just more and more keeps coming and I keep getting more and more excited for it.”
Hoppel plans to relax in the team hotel on tomorrow’s off day with his Brazier and Murphy. Murphy is Hoppel’s roommate here at Worlds and Hoppel said Murphy has been giving him advice.
Hoppel wasn’t the only man to make the final coming off a collegiate final. Canada’s Marco Arop, who didn’t even make it to NCAAs outdoors due to a hamstring injury, grabbed an auto qualifier in heat 2 behind Brazier.
Quick Take: This final couldn’t be set up much better for Donavan Brazier
Brazier has looked terrific all season, including in both qualifying rounds in Doha. That’s the good news for Brazier fans. The even better news is that his biggest rival for gold, Nijel Amos, withdrew due to injury before the meet started. 2018 World #1 Emmanuel Korir has been battling injuries all year and did not advance, so that is good news for Brazier as well. And the final is set up nicely for Brazier as there is a natural front-runner in Vazquez. While Brazier has run well in all sorts of tactical situations this year, he is at his best when he can sit on the leader’s shoulder for the first 600 meters or so and explode by him. If he can grab that position behind Vazquez in the final, he’ll be right where he wants to be (though of course, that’s valuable real estate).
Brazier acknowledged that he liked having a known front-runner like Vazquez in the final and would like a fast final — a first lap in the 49-mid range — but he knows it’s not guaranteed.
“[Having Vazquez in the final] is exciting,” Brazier said. “I don’t always bank that he’s gonna do it, because of course you never really know. But to think that he might take it out fast and set up a nice honest race for a world final I think is very special and would be a good thing to watch.”
Quick Take: Mega props to Spain’s Adrian Ben
The final time qualifier was the fourth place finisher from heat #1, 21-year-old Spaniard Adrian Ben, who ran a big PB of 1:44.97. Coming into today’s semifinals, he had both the slowest seasonal best and personal best of everyone in the semis at 1:45.78 — just .02 under the qualifying standard for Worlds.
Seeded #36 out of 46 in the first round, he made the final 24. And today, seeded #24 out of #24, he made the top 8. What can he do the final?
Everyone else who made the final had one of the top 10 fastest seasonal bests of the 24 semifinalists, as shown in the chart below.
|1||Ferguson ROTICH||KEN||1:42.54||1:42.54||Q – 2nd in heat #2 in 1:44.20|
|2||Donavan BRAZIER||USA||1:42.70||1:42.70||Q – Won heat #2 in 1:44.87|
|3||Brandon MCBRIDE||CAN||1:43.20||1:43.51||DNQ – Faded to 4th in heat #3 in 1:46.21|
|4||Amel TUKA||BIH||1:42.51||1:43.62||Q – Won heat #2 in 1:45.63|
|5||Emmanuel KORIR||KEN||1:42.05||1:43.69||DNQ – 3rd in heat #2 in 1:45.19|
|6||Wesley VÁZQUEZ||PUR||1:43.83||1:43.83||Q – Won heat #1 in 1:43.96|
|7||Clayton MURPHY||USA||1:42.93||1:43.94||q – 3rd in heat #1 in 1:44.48|
|8||Marco AROP||CAN||1:44.25||1:44.25||Q – 2nd in heat #2 in 1:45.07|
|9||Abubaker ABDALLA||QAT||1:44.33||1:44.33||DNQ – faded to last (1:46.87) in heat #1|
|10||Bryce HOPPEL||USA||1:44.41||1:44.41||Q – 2nd in heat #3 in 1:45.95|
|16||Adrián BEN||ESP||1:45.78||1:45.78||q – 4th in heat #1 in 1:44.97 (PB)|
Quick Take: A lot has changed in two years
The 800 is a young man’s game, and tonight’s semis showed it. None of the 2017 finalists made it back to the final in 2019, and half the finalists are 22 or younger. None is older than 29.
Age of 2019 men’s 800m finalists
Ferguson Rotich 29
Amel Tuka 28
Wesley Vazquez 25
Clayton Murphy 24
Donavan Brazier 22
Bryce Hoppel 22
Marco Arop 21
Adrian Ben 21
Brannon Kidder belongs
Kidder didn’t look to be in great form in the leadup to Worlds — he went 1:48, 1:45, 1:47 in his last three races, finishing 8th, 6th, and 5th. But he absolutely ran like he belonged in Doha, finishing 4th in his semifinal. Had the first heat not gone out so fast, Kidder would have had a genuine hope at advancing (his time was faster than anyone in the third heat); alas, it did not.
While this week was certainly a huge positive for Kidder overall, one problem remains: the USA, at the moment, is the best 800-meter country in the world, and those three finalists — all of whom are younger than Kidder — aren’t going away. Making another team is going to be tough.
Watch out for Amel Tuka
Tuka emerged from obscurity in 2015 to earn a bronze at Worlds, but missed the Olympic final in 2016 and the world final in 2017. He revealed today that he has been banged up the last few years — nothing he couldn’t train through, but some issues that prevented him from reaching his best — but those issues have cleared up in 2019 and his form has picked up as he came into this meet off a strong win at The Meet in Minsk.
Brandon McBride makes tactical mistakes, tightens up and does not advance
McBride said he made the mistake of running much of the race in the outside of lane 1 which meant he ran extra ground and then he said coming down the homestretch he panicked a bit as Hoppel came up on him and that contributed to him tightening up and not making the final.
Clayton Murphy interview
Wesley Vazquez the 4th American in the final
Puerto Rico is a US territory so technically their are 4 Americans in the final. Vazquez has run great in 2019 and is a front-runner. In a few races this year he hasn’t made it all the way to the finish in the lead but he held up today and had the only 1:43 clocking on the day. Vazquez says since he’s bigger than most 800 guys he trains with more speed stuff than endurance.