Donavan Brazier Ends America’s 800m Gold Medal Drought In Style, Wins With American Record Time of 1:42.34

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by LetsRun.com
October 1, 2019

DOHA, Qatar — America’s 47-year old gold medal drought in the 800 is over.

And this time, America didn’t have to wait until the finish line to know a gold was coming home to Team USA. Unlike Dave Wottle in 1972, Donavan Brazier ended this one early. Brazier powered to the lead 525 meters into the race and by 700 meters he was more than a second up on the field. At the finish, Brazier had won gold with style points added as an extra bonus, winning the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships men’s 800 by more than a second in a new personal best and American and Championship record of 1:42.34 (old pb of 1:42.80), breaking Johnny Gray’s 1:42.60 record which had stood since 1985.

Amel Tuka of Bosnia and Herzegovina moved up one spot from 2015 Worlds to claim silver in a seasonal best 1:43.47 while Ferguson Rotich of Kenya, who had been so close to a medal twice before (5th in 2015, 5th in 2016) finally ended up on the podium in third in 1:43.82.

(Getty Images for IAAF)

NCAA champ Bryce Hoppel ended his stellar 2019 campaign in impressive fashion by closing hard to place fourth in a new personal best of 1:44.25, in his 40th race of the year (and 25th 800 of the year).

There were two other Americans in the race. Wesley Vazquez, competing for Puerto Rico, who took this one out hard and served as a de-facto rabbit for Brazier, ended up fifth in 1:44.48. American Clayton Murphy, the first Alberto-Salazar coached athlete to compete since Salazar was handed a 4-year ban for anti-doping rule violations late last night (early this morning in Qatar), got out aggressively in fourth but had a horrible second lap and ended up last in 1:47.84.

The Race

Vazquez as expected went out hard, hitting 200 in 23.53, 400 in 48.99 and 500 in 1:02.25, and Brazier was the only competitor to go with the early pace as by 500 Tuka was already .70 of a second behind Brazier in third. On the backstretch as Vazquez slowed down, Brazier didn’t hesitate and he quickly took the lead and never looked back.

The rest of the race was simply about – how fast would Brazier run and who would get second and third. Vazquez held onto second place honors until the 700 meter mark when first Tuka and then Rotich came by. Hoppel passed Vazquez for 4th right before the line.

Race highlights (US visitors).

Results *100m splits

1 Donavan BRAZIER USA 1:42.34 CR
2 Amel TUKA BIH 1:43.47 SB
3 Ferguson Cheruiyot ROTICH KEN 1:43.82
4 Bryce HOPPEL USA 1:44.25 PB
5 Wesley VÁZQUEZ PUR 1:44.48
6 Adrián BEN ESP 1:45.58
7 Marco AROP CAN 1:45.78
8 Clayton MURPHY USA 1:47.84

Quick Take: This race could not have played out any better if Donavan Brazier scripted it

Brazier has made tremendous tactical strides in 2019, but he didn’t end up needing to worry much about positioning as this race was pretty simple. He (surprisingly easily) got out into a perfect position behind Vazquez by 200 meters; after that, it was just a matter of choosing when to kick.

This race played out similarly to the one that launched Brazier into stardom at the 2016 NCAA final, when he ran a collegiate record of 1:43.55 as a true freshman. In both cases, Brazier had a noted front-runner to take it out hard in front of him, followed him closely in second, and pulled away on the second lap because he simply was better than everyone else. The only difference was he moved much earlier this time.

As soon as the final was set, Brazier was giddy that Vazquez was in the field as anyone who has watched Vazquez run this year knows that he likes to take races out hard.

Quick Take: We just watched the greatest 800-meter race ever by an American/Johnny Gray’s American record finally falls

(Getty Images for IAAF)

With all due respect to Dave Wottle, no American has ever run a better 800 meters than the one Brazier did tonight in Doha. Not only did he become the first American to win the 800m world title, but he did so by running the fastest time ever by an American and the fastest time ever in a World Championship final. Along the way, he set the record for largest margin of victory in a World Championship final, defeating runner-up Tuka by 1.13 seconds.

While we’re here, let’s pay some respect to Johnny Gray. When Gray first ran 1:42, in 1984, he was just the fourth man to break 1:43. Now 39 men have done it. Gray ran his American record in August 1985, and since then, four other Americans had broken 1:43, including Brazier in the DL final in August (1:42.70). But none had been able to go under 1:42.60 — a testament to how strong the record was.

For more on Gray, check out our interview with him from 2017: LRC Johnny Gray Talks About Having American 800 Record for 32 Years, Why He Considered Taking Drugs, & His Thoughts on Ajee Wilson

Quick take: Brazier got inspiration from David Rudisha

Brazier said he met David Rudisha for the first time before the race.

“I started getting good right about when he retired,” Brazier said. “I talked to him right before the race and he said he believed in me the most out of all the runners in the race and to see him say that just such a dominant racer in the 800 [was confident in me] meant a lot to me.”

Someone might want to tell Brazier that Rudisha has not officially retired, he’s just been injured. But the event looks to be squarely in Brazier’s hands right now.

With his win, Brazier gets a bye for the 2021 Worlds in Eugene, which he may not need but Brazier, who bombed out at the 2016 Olympic Trials after he first burst onto stardom, knows making US teams isn’t easy, especially with 3 Americans in the final tonight. When Brazier was asked about winning Tokyo 2020, he refused to look that far ahead and talked about the Olympic Trials saying, “The US Championships isn’t  anything to look past. [I’m] Really excited and really nervous [about them].”

Quick Take: Brazier says he didn’t even know NOP was under investigation until today

It was cruel timing for Brazier that the most important race of his life happened to fall on the same day as USADA announced it had banned Alberto Salazar from the sport for four years. Though Salazar is the head coach of the Nike Oregon Project, of which Brazier is a member, Brazier is coached by NOP assistant Pete Julian. And after the race, Brazier tried to downplay his relationship with Salazar, repeatedly emphasizing that Julian is his coach.

“Our training groups have really never crossed paths,” Brazier said, adding that when they’re not in Portland, the Salazar-coached athletes and Julian-coached athletes go to separate training camps. Brazier did acknowledge that he has had some contact with Alberto — “the only contact I’ve had with Alberto has been pleasant; I like Alberto, he’s a cool guy” — but said that Salazar has never coached him directly.

“I’ve crossed his path when I’m out in Oregon,” Brazier said. “I am a part of his group, but at the end of the day, I am a Pete Julian athlete.” 

Brazier said that he found out that Salazar had been banned by waking up to an ESPN alert on his phone this morning. In addition, he said that was the first time that he learned Salazar had been charged by USADA with anti-doping violations — even though those charges were made over two years ago. And almost unbelievably, Brazier said he didn’t even know an investigation was going on.

“I think I found out like everybody else,” Brazier said. “I just heard about the news this morning that he has been charged. I didn’t even know there was an investigation going on. I don’t really know much about it.”

Quick Take: A day to forget for Clayton Murphy

October 1, 2019, is not a day Clayton Murphy will remember fondly. He woke up by hearing the news that his coach, Salazar, had been banned from the sport for four years. And he ran a poor race in the World Championship final, finishing dead last in 1:47.84. After the race, as Brazier was celebrating his gold, Murphy was sitting on the stairway leading up to the TV interview section, hanging his head.

“I was pretty disappointed to have so many hard workouts and tough days and long nights and early mornings to put on a performance like that in the final,” Murphy said.

Then, after he was done, Murphy had to face the media, who wanted to hear his reaction to Salazar’s ban.

“Everything with Alberto, all the allegations and things happened before I was part of the group,” said Murphy, who joined NOP in 2017. “Never had anything pressured, never was asked to do anything. We always competed clean ever since I started running and never saw anything wrongdoing.”

We wanted to ask Murphy more questions, but he cut off the interview early. However, we spoke with Murphy’s agent Paul Doyle afterwards, who told us that Murphy only found out that Salazar had been charged with anti-doping violations by USADA around the time of USAs this year (late July). Once finding out this morning of the USADA verdict, Murphy switched hotels to try and get ready for his race not having to field questions from other Team USA members.

QT: Pete Julian’s gets his first world champion and American record holder

Ten years ago Pete Julian left Metro State, a Division II school in Denver, to become the cross country coach at Washington State. Tonight he was coaching Brazier to a World Championship and American record on the day his boss was banned from the sport for four years. Julian said he was still processing everything surrounding the doping charges, and was not ready to talk about the Alberto ruling. He said he found out about the ruling at 4:55 this morning when he was using his phone as a flashlight to guide himself to the restroom in his hotel room. We’re likely to hear much more from Julian in the future as if the charges are not overturned and the NOP continues, it likely will be with Julian in charge. With the success of Brazier, Konstanze Klosterhalfen, Craig Engels, and Suguru Osako this year, Julian looks poised to continue the success of the club.

Julian and Brazier said the plan was for Brazier to have the lead with 200m to go and he executed perfectly.

Quick Take: What a year for Bryce Hoppel

When Hoppel only finished 4th at the Pan American Games in August, there were very few people that would have predicted he’d bounce back over seven weeks later to finish 4th in the World Championship final. The Hoppel that ran in Lima looked tired, worn down from a long string of races. Hoppel ran four cross country races last fall, and though he didn’t race at all in November or December, he has run at least one race in every month of 2019 so far.

And just as everyone hopes, Hoppel’s last race of the season was his best. He clocked a PR of 1:44.25 in the World Championship final and moved from 7th to 4th over the final 200. It was an incredible end to an incredible (and incredibly long) season. His perfect start to the year — Hoppel won his first 21 races of 2019, including heats — seems ages ago. And though Hoppel loves racing, even he is ready to take a well-earned rest.

“It’s time for a break now,” Hoppel said. “That’s a wrap on the season for sure.”

Hoppel signed a pro deal with adidas, but he has two semesters left at the University of Kansas, where he plans on finishing his degree. From there, he’s not sure if he’ll stay with college coach Michael Whittlesey or find a pro group to train with. But those are questions for another day.

We also asked Hoppel, who is rooming with Murphy in Doha, for his reaction to the Salazar news.

“I don’t have enough information to speak on anything about Alberto,” Hoppel said. “But just personally knowing Donavan and Clayton, they’re incredible guys and I know how they had nothing to do with that.”

This is a flash recap. Check back for a full post-race analysis and interviews from Doha. In the meantime, talk about the action on our fan forum / messageboard.


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