Women’s 800 Preview: Can The Americans Produce A Historic Sweep Of The Medals?

By Robert Johnson
July 15, 2022

Last year, Athing Mu‘s near-perfect season saw her go undefeated in the 800 and win Olympic gold in a US record of 1:55.21. All at the age of 19. And her front-running style led to a super fast race as six of the eight finalists PR’d in Tokyo.

2020 (2021) Tokyo Olympic Final Results
1. Athing Mu United States 1:55.21 NR AJR
2. Keely Hodgkinson Great Britain 1:55.88 NR AJR
3. Raevyn Rogers United States 1:56.81 PB
4. Jemma Reekie Great Britain 1:56.90 PB
5. Wang Chunyu China 1:57.00 PB
6. Habitam Alemu Ethiopia 1:57.56 SB
7. Alexandra Bell Great Britain 1:57.66 PB
8. Natoya Goule Jamaica 1:58.26

Look at those times. 4th place in 1:56.90. That’s super quick. The world leader this year is Mu at 1:57.01. Only 13 times in history has someone run sub-1:57 and not finished in the top 3 of a race and virtually all of the other races were skewed by presumably doped-up Eastern European or intersex athletes. Take a look at the results at the 1976 Olympics or the 1987 Worlds for example or the 2018 Monaco Diamond League.

What can we expect for an encore in 2022?

More of the same, but maybe not quite as fast. This year, there is a clear top 5 in the world, with the five women who have broken 1:58 this year being the five women I expect to battle it out for the medals.

The 5 Sub-1:58 Women in 2022
1 1:57.01 Athing Mu USA –
Hasn’t lost an 800 but hasn’t been running as fast in the 400 or 800 in 2022 as 2021.
2 1:57.23 Ajee’ Wilson USA – Won World Indoors then almost beat Mu as USAs. Also runner-up at Pre.
3 1:57.45 Mary Moraa KEN – 22-year-old has had breakout 2022 as she’s lowered her pb from 1:59 to 1:57.45. Also has set a Kenyan record of 50.84 in 400 and beat Hodgkinson in her last race in Stockholm.
4 1:57.71 Keely Hodgkinson GBR – Winner of Eugene and Oslo DLs, but lost to Mary Moraa in last race in Stockholm.
5 1:57.96 Raevyn Rogers USA – 1:58, 1:58, 1:58, and 1:57 in her four races this year.

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Photo by Phil Bond

Despite the close call at USAs, let there be no doubt – 20-year-old Athing Mu is the favorite but a win but this race is far from a foregone conclusion. Given how close Wilson came to beating Mu at USAs, it’s natural to think she’s the one most likely to pull off the upset. Twice a bronze medallist at Worlds, the 28-year-old Wilson finally got a chance to shine indoors this year when she got the win in dominant fashion in Mu’s and Hodgkinson’s absence. Can she win a second world title after being denied in 2019 when she entered the race as the big favorite but only ended up third?

The Olympic silver medallist Keely Hodgkinson, 20, also can’t be totally discounted. Yes, she lost her last race in Stockholm but heading into the Olympics last year, she was just 4th in Stockholm and did quite well in Tokyo. That being said, that’s a bit misleading as last year Hodgkinson ran a PB of 1:57.51 in Stockholm. This year, she ran 1:58.18. Still, she’s run five 800s this year and the run 1;57 in three of them and never slower than 1:58.

Rogers, on the other hand, is trending in the right direction. She’s either won or set a seasonal best in every 800 she’s run in 2022. Her picture is on the Hayward tower so it’s hard to think she won’t have another good one here.

Kenya’s Mary Moraa, 22, who just missed the final last year in Tokyo, has been a nice revelation in 2022 but when she raced Mu in Rome, Moraa was just 4th in 1:59.26 (Mu won in 1:57.01).

There are more than five potential medallists as 14 entrants on the year have broken 1:59 this season, but there are only five other women who have broken 1:58.5 this year.

The 14 Women In The Field Who’ve Gone Sub 1:59 in 2022
First Last Nat. PB SB
Athing MU USA 01:55.04 01:57.01
Ajee WILSON USA 01:55.61 01:57.23
Mary MORAA KEN 01:57.45 01:57.45
Keely HODGKINSON GBR 01:55.88 01:57.71
Raevyn ROGERS USA 01:56.81 01:57.96
Diribe WELTEJI ETH 01:58.28 01:58.28
Prudence SEKGODISO RSA 01:58.41 01:58.41
Jemma REEKIE GBR 01:56.90 01:58.44
Renelle LAMOTE FRA 01:57.98 01:58.48
Catriona BISSET AUS 01:58.09 01:58.54
Hirut MESHESHA ETH 01:58.54 01:58.54
Rose Mary ALMANZA CUB 01:56.28 01:58.60
Halimah NAKAAYI UGA 01:58.03 01:58.68
Elena BELLÒ ITA 01:58.97 01:58.97

The next fastest entrant in the field is Diribe Welteji of Ethiopia who has run 1:58.28 this year. She’s a talent. Like Mu and Hodgkinson, she is also just 20 and was the world junior champ in 2018 in the 800 at age 16 (and silver medallist in the 1500 last year at age 19) and has been having a very strong year. She’s run just two 800s and run 1:58 in both of them, even if the last one was just 5th place showing in Oslo. She might need to get a new agent as she’s been on fire in the 1500, having won her last three races with the last two being 3:59 races, but none of those were DL races and she didn’t make the Ethiopian team as a result.

Brit Jemma Reekie, who ran 1:56.90 in Tokyo and didn’t medal as she was an agonizing fourth, seems much less likely to medal this year than last. Yes, she ran 1:58.44 in Poland (where she lost to Welteji’s 1:58.28) but was only 8th at Pre, 9th in Rome, and 8th in Oslo.

A better bet for a medal might be France’s Renelle Lamote. The 28-year-old ran 1:58.48 for 2nd in Rome and 1:58.50 for 3rd in Oslo and she won the French champs in 1:58.71 and has been top 3 in every race she’s run this year. 20-year-old Prudence Sekgodisa of South Africa has had a great year as she started the year with a 2:01 pb and has now run 1:58.41 but she’s really trending in the wrong direction as she was just 3rd at the African champs and 6th in Stockholm.

(Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images for IAAF)

There is one woman who hasn’t run under 1:58.50 that could be a major player — defending champ Halimah Nakaayi of Uganda. Indoors Nakaayi ran 1:58 and then took bronze in Belgrade. Outdoors, she took a step back at the start of the season as she was 5th in Nairobi, 6th at Pre, and 10th in Rome but she’s improved to 4th in both Oslo and Stockholm, where she ran 1:58 in both races. So she’s run way faster in 2021 than she did in 2019 heading into Worlds. In 2019, she won the title in 1:58.04 but headed into the meet with a 1:59.57 sb. The biggest difference is the rest of the world is much better in 2022 than 2019 and 1:58.04 won’t sniff gold

LRC Prediction: American sweep baby — 1) Mu 2) Wilson 3) Rogers. Every World or Olympics needs at least one signature moment for the host country and this could be one for the Americans in Eugene. No country has ever swept the medals in the 800 at Worlds. Four times previous a country has won two — 1983 (Soviet Union), 1987 (East Germany), 2013 (USA), 2019 (USA).

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