By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2023 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
BUDAPEST (25-Aug) -- Reigning world and Olympic 800m champion, Athing Mu of the United States, successfully advanced to her final tonight at the National Athletics Center, but only by dodging a near disaster and making a quick recovery.
Mu, 21, who competed in the third of three heats, was running comfortably with the pack led by Kenya's Mary Moraa, last summer's bronze medalist in Eugene, as the race approached the bell lap. Suddenly, South Africa's Prudence Sekgodiso tripped and fell hard to the track. Mu got knocked off balance, teetered out to lane three, and nearly stopped. Other athletes were affected as well.
"I had to do a little mini-hurdle mid race," said Jamaica's Adelle Tracey who was also involved in the incident. "I was obviously really sad to see Prudence fall because she's in really great shape, so it's a real shame."
Mu was suddenly in seventh place. Maintaining her composure, she quickly got back in the race and began to work her way back up through the field. By the time she reached the 600 meter mark, Mu was with the leaders. She successfully sprinted from there and ended up finishing second to Moraa, 1:58.48 to 1:58.78, with both women claiming the two automatic qualifying spots.
Remarkably, because Moraa had run so fast for the first 400 meters (57.36), the next two finishers --Uganda's Halimah Nakaayi and Jamaica's Tracey-- ran fast enough to get the two time qualifiers as the fastest losers. Nakaayi, the 2019 world champion, ran 1:58.89 and Tracey ran a personal best 1:58.99.
"I'm so happy," Tracey told Race Results Weekly, wiping away tears of joy. "Honestly, I'm just in a little bit of shock. Obviously, I've always wanted to make a global final but to do it in the 800 is a surprise. It feels really, really good."
Mu did not speak with the media after her race.
Also advancing to the final were Britain's Keely Hodgkinson and Jemma Reekie. Hodgkinson, the silver medalist at both the 2021 Olympics and 2022 World Championships, led the second heat from gun to tape. She split halfway in 58.48, and finished in 1:58.48. She got a challenge from the fast-closing Nia Akins in the final 75 meters, but was never in any danger of not advancing.
"It was fine, it was good fun," a relaxed Hodgkinson told the British press corps. "I always go out hard and I wanted to see if anyone wanted to take it on."
Reekie won the strangely slow second heat which only went out in 61.26 seconds leaving the eight contestants bunched up at the bell. When the real running started on the backstretch, Reekie, the USA's Raevyn Rogers, Ethiopia's Habitam Alemu, and Jamaica's Natoya Goule-Toppin were all able to handle the acceleration. In the final sprint, Reekie went from fourth to first to get the win in 2:00.28.
"I did not run that the way I wanted to," Reekie told reporters. "I stayed calm and I knew I was in good shape, and my speed was good. So, I just had to hope that a gap would open up."
The last two qualifying spots went to the two Americans, Akins in heat one and Rogers in heat two, who both finished second. Akins, the recently crowned USA champion, set a personal best of 1:58.61. Although she did not speak to the media, her coach, Danny Mackey of the Brooks Beasts Track Club, offered this assessment in a text message to Race Results Weekly: "We went through a few scenarios this morning and her being in the front was the most scary, but she managed it so well. When it gets to this level and they succeed, I'm very very happy for Nia and I'm super excited for her final."
Rogers wasn't fazed by her slow, tactical heat. She stayed calm and did her job, she said.
"It felt great," Rogers told Race Results Weekly. "I just took the position I was given. I mean, I didn't want to get out slow; I expected it to be fast. So, I just kind of went in with that expectation, and just work with the position I was given, and just try to be aware and conscious of where I was at."
WOMEN'S MARATHON IS TOMORROW
On Saturday at 7:00 a.m. the women's marathon will step off from Heroes' Square in the city center. Seventy-eight athletes from 47 countries are on the official start list, nearly double the 40 who competed in Eugene a year ago.
Most of the race will be held on one roadway, Andrássy Avenue, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's a wide boulevard which is usually teeming with traffic. Athletes will do five out-and-back circuits. The first is 2.2 kilometers, and the next four are 10 kilometers. The runners will pass landmarks like the House of Terror Museum, Opera House, and Hungarian Academy of Sciences before crossing the iconic Széchenyi Chain Bridge on the side of the Danube River. The competitors will loop around Buda Castle, go back over the bridge, then head back to Heroes' Square for the next circuit and eventually the finish.
Two of the three medalists from Eugene are on the start list. Ethiopia's Gotytom Gebreslase hopes to bring home another gold medal, while Israel's Lonah Chemtai Salpeter hopes to move up from the bronze medal position she achieved a year ago. Because Gebreslase got a "bye" to enter here as defending champion, Ethiopia has another three women on their squad: Tsehay Gemechu (2:16:56 PB), Amane Beriso (2:14:58) and Yalemzerf Yehualaw (2:18:53). All four Ethiopian women are ranked in the top-8 in the world under the World Athletics points system.
Other medal contenders include Kenya's Rosemary Wanjiru, the 2023 Tokyo Marathon champion (2:16:28 PB); Eritrea's Nazret Weldu, the fourth place finisher from Eugene (2:20:29); Japan's Mizuki Matsuda, the 2022 Osaka Women's Marathon champion (2:20:52); and the United States' Keira D'Amato, the former national record holder (2:19:12 PB). A total of seven women have run sub-2:20 during their careers.
However, the high heat and humidity expected here makes handicapping this race particularly difficult. According to weather.com, the start time temperature will be 23C/73F with an oppressive 79% humidity, and will likely feel hotter with no cloud cover and little shade (the start/finish area has no shade at all). By 9:00 a.m. the temperature is expected to rise to 27C/80F with 62% humidity. By comparison, in Eugene it was just 10C/50F at start with 90% humidity, rising only to 16C/61F at finish with 75% humidity.
No American woman has ever won a world marathon title. The most recent medalist was Amy Cragg who took the bronze in London in 2017. The other medalist was Marianne Dickerson who won silver in the inaugural championships in Helsinki in 1983.