Women’s 800m Semis: Athing Mu is Your Gold Medal Favorite, Ajee Wilson OUT

by LetsRun.com
July 31, 2021

A mouth-watering women’s 800-meter final is set, and two teenagers impressed: American champ Athing Mu and British champ Keely Hodgkinson, but make no mistake about it, Athing Mu is the favorite for Olympic gold.

Mu front-ran 1:58.07 to win the second heat and looked bored doing it, while Hodgkinson kicked hard in the final 100 to win heat three, negative-splitting a 1:59.12. Hodgkinson beat American Raevyn Rogers at her own game in the process, going from sixth to first in the last 150 meters. Rogers got through to the final with a time qualifier, running 1:59.28 for second.

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Ajee’ Wilson, a four-time global medallist indoors and out, was not so lucky, missing the final after being outclassed in heat one. With the top 2 in each heat only automatically making the final, Wilson was in a tough heat with upstart Brit Jemma Reekie and Jamaican Natoya Goule, both of whom have run 1:56 this year. The pace was slow (61.6 at 400) which meant only two would advance, and Wilson was perfectly poised with 200 to go, but did not have a strong finish.

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It’s a tough ending for Wilson, who battled injuries this season, as she is unable to pursue gold-medal glory after years of frustration and being the best non-intersex woman in the 800 final.

Wilson was not the only big name to miss the final, as Cuba’s Rose Mary Almanza (#2 in the world this year) and reigning World champ Halimah Nakaayi of Uganda also failed to make it out of their heats. The 2021 global final is much harder to make than in 2019 as in 2019, only five women in the semis had an SB under 1:59, tonight 12 women started with a sub-1:59 sb.

The full contingent from Great Britain did make the final, as Reekie was second in heat 1 and Alexandra Bell got a time qualifier after running 1:58.83 in heat two behind Mu and Ethiopia’s Habitam Alemu

Goule and Reekie also looked primed for a good final, running big negative splits (61.60-57.97 for Goule) to go 1-2 in heat one.

The final is set for Tuesday night at 9:25 p.m. in Tokyo, or 8:25 a.m in the Eastern time zone of the United States.

Analysis below Results

1 JAM Natoya GOULE 1:59.57 Q
2 GBR Jemma REEKIE 1:59.77 Q
3 KEN Mary MORAA 2:00.47  
4 USA Ajee WILSON 2:00.79  
5 POL Joanna JÓŹWIK 2:02.32  
6 ITA Elena BELLÒ 2:02.35  
7 NOR Hedda HYNNE 2:02.38  
8 UGA Halimah NAKAAYI 2:04.44  
Heat 1
1 USA Athing MU 1:58.07 Q
2 ETH Habitam ALEMU 1:58.40 Q
3 GBR Alexandra BELL 1:58.83 q
4 SUI Lore HOFFMANN 1:59.38  
5 FRA Renelle LAMOTE 1:59.40  
6 FIN Sara KUIVISTO 1:59.41 NR  
7 BEN Noélie YARIGO 2:01.41  
8 ESP Natalia ROMERO 2:01.52  
Heat 2
1 GBR Keely HODGKINSON 1:59.12 Q
2 CHN Chunyu WANG 1:59.14 PB Q
3 USA Raevyn ROGERS 1:59.28 q
4 CUB Rose Mary ALMANZA 1:59.65  
5 UGA Winnie NANYONDO 1:59.84 SB  
6 MAR Rababe ARAFI 1:59.86  
7 URU Déborah RODRÍGUEZ 2:01.76  
8 GER Katharina TROST 2:02.14
Heat 3

Quick Take: Mu will be disappointed to go home without a medal

Now that she is in the final, Athing Mu is not shy in saying she expects to go home with hardware.

“I came here with medal mentality,” she said.

Mu acknowledged that the semifinals were as easy for her as they looked, as many competitors in her heat were doubled over after the race, while she walked nonchalantly off the track.

Asked if she’d been in a race recently in which she pushed herself to the limit, Mu had this to say:

“I would say no. I don’t really know what the limit is. USAs was pretty fast but it wasn’t that, ‘I’m dead. I can’t finish the race.’ It was a pretty fast run. So no, I really haven’t yet.

Perhaps on Tuesday she will finally have to go to the well.

Quick Take: Wilson makes no excuses, says she isn’t washed up

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Wilson did not point to any physical issue and didn’t go into detail about the struggles of her season.

“It just wasn’t my night tonight, unfortunately,” she said. “You want to show up in these big moments, and that just didn’t happen for me. I’ve been working hard since the Trials, I’ve been having great practices, so it’s definitely disappointing. Things had to come together today but I was happy coming into the Olympics.”

Asked if she had missed her window to win a global gold, Wilson tempered the panic.

“Comparing it to my last Olympics, I definitely wanted to do better; I definitely wanted to make that final,” Wilson said. “I remember sitting in the stands and just thinking, ‘next time around. I want to be in the mix, I want to be in medal contention.’ I don’t think I’m washed up. I don’t think that I’m done.  I think that I still got a lot left in me and I’m excited to continue to work towards that and just come back stronger.”

Quick Take:  Natoya Goule has reason to be confident and says she hopes the 800 final is fast

For most of her career, Natoya Goule of Jamaica has been a bit of a one-trick pony. She likes 800 races that are basic time trials as she likes to go out fast and hold on. Tonight, she got out in the front but the pace was slow and she THRIVED.

Goule, who has lowered her 1500 pb from 4:17 to 4:08 this year, showed off her improved endurance by winning heat 1 off of a slow pace which often favors more endurance-based 800 runners. Goule ran her first 400 in 61.57 and her second in 58.00.

“It’s a big improvement from what I used to race and I’m really happy with my performance. It felt easy and I didn’t have to push hard. So I’m really happy with how I raced tonight,” said Goule who didn’t know her lap splits. When we incorrectly told her we thought her second lap was 57.7 (it was actually just a little bit slower at 58.00), she said “No way. You make me pumped. Oh my gosh, that’s amazing.”

As for the final, Goule said she hopes and expects it to be fast.

“I would like it to be fast, you know, this is a great track, a great opportunity for us to go fast and based on how I saw how Athing went out in the semis now I know that she’s gonna get it out in the finals, and I’m looking forward to that.”

Jemma Reekie is confident for the final

After finishing second in heat #1, Jemma Reekie said it was a “really good race” and felt like she “executed it well” and said she was “really confident”’ as she know she in “amazing shape.”

Quick Take: Chunyu Wang is your biggest surprise finalist

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China’s Chunyu Wang ran a personal-best 1:59.14 to place second in heat three, behind Hodgkinson but ahead of Rogers, to make the final. It was just her fourth time under the 2 minute mark in her career. At 1:59.14 on the year, she’s just the 28th fastest person in the world in 2021 but she’s won of the final 8 remaining in Tokyo.

Wang led the first lap and then rallied back for second after several women passed her in the middle 200.

When she went through the mixed zone, she was greeted with cheers by an extremely happy Chinese media contingent. Wang certainly has charisma as soon they were in stitches laughing at her responses. When we asked an interpreter why everyone was laughing, she said she told herself before the race that as motivation if she made the final, she’d buy herself a really expensive purse and also get an extensive and elaborate nail job in the Olympic village nail salon.

We were told by a journalist that she eventually confessed she wasn’t really serious about buying the expensive bag as it’s not her style but he did tell us look out for her nails in the final.

Wang, the silver medallist from the 2011 World Youth Games (behind Ajee’ Wilson) said through an interpreter that her aim was to make the final in Tokyo. Given her past success, in addition to the World Youth silver, she also won teh Asian Games in 2013 and 2018, she always believed in but said making the final was a “great surprise” and said she will try her best in the final.

Quick Take: Nakaayi revealed that she’s been battling an injury but says she’s convinced she’ll do great things in 2022 as long as she’s still alive

In 2019, there probably was no bigger shock winner at Worlds than Halimah Nakaayi. Tonight she finished a shockingly last place in semi #1. Yes, Nakaayi was only 7th at Monaco but she did run a pb of 1:58.03 in that race. 

When asked about today’s race in an exclusive interview with LRC, she said the following:

 “It’s disappointing, [but] you know in life we have, we always have good days and bad days at work. So today it was not my good day, but I congratulate my colleagues who have made it to the final. 

I know that my future is bright. I know I can still make it.. This year I’ve been suffering with a tendon problem of which it has costed me a lot. But let me focus on next year, I know I’ll do great still. I know, next year I will do great things . God willingly as long as I’m alive. I’ll do my best to perform to my maximum.

We then asked Nakaayi for more info about her injury and she pointed to her left lower leg when we asked her what the tendon problem was, leading us to believe it was her Achilles.”

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