EUGENE (22-Jul) — About one hour before the USA’s Sydney McLaughlin set an astonishing world record in the 400m hurdles of 50.68, the American women’s 800m squad of Athing Mu, Raevyn Rogers and Ajee’ Wilson also had something to celebrate.
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For the second consecutive World Athletics Championships, Team USATF had placed three women in the 800m final with Mu and Wilson nabbing auto qualifiers and Rogers advancing on time. This is only the third time in World Athletics Championships history that an American team has put three women in the final; the other time before Doha in 2019 (Rogers, 2nd; Wilson, 3rd; and Ce’Aira Brown 8th) was in Moscow in 2013 (Brenda Martinez, 2nd; Alysia Montaño, 3rd; and Wilson 5th).
Wilson’s race came first, and Kenya’s Mary Moraa –a gold medal contender– made it fast from the gun, scooting through 200 meters in 27.6 seconds with Germany’s Christina Hering and Great Britain’s Jemma Reekie on her tail. Wilson was close behind and trying to keep in a good position.
“It got a little physical at parts and I just had to make sure I was just, like, awake at all times and in a good position,” Wilson told Race Results Weekly.
Moraa was still the leader at 400 meters (59-flat) with France’s Renelle Lamote, Herring and Wilson following. Moraa held that lead through 600 meters (1:30-flat), but now Wilson was right behind her (Lamote would fade to 6th place). Out of the final bend, Moraa and Wilson were pressed by Ethiopia’s Habitam Alemu and Britain’s Reekie, and the final sprint was fierce.
“We were all kind of bunched together in a similar spot so everyone’s just trying to fight that last bit to get the auto Q,” said Wilson, who dug deep to maintain second position in 1:59.97 just behind Moraa’s 1:59.65. Jamaica’s Adelle Tracey, came from fifth position at the bend to pass both Alemu and Reekie and take third in 2:00.21. Tracey did not advance, but was pleased to be able to represent Jamaica at the international level for the first time after running previously for Great Britain.
“Honestly, this has been a very special experience for me,” Tracey told reporters, getting emotional. “It’s not often a person gets to represent both sides of their heritage.”
Rogers ran in the second heat, which also went out fast, led by Australia’s Catriona Bisset, the athlete who fell hard in the first round, got spiked in the thigh, and was later advanced by the race referee. Bisset lead at 200 meters (27.5) and 400 meters (57.4) assuring that the race would have a fast finish time. The Australian actually had about a two meter lead at the halfway mark.
But on the backstretch of the final lap, Great Britain’s 2021 Olympic silver medalist Keely Hodgkinson took over the lead and only Jamaica’s Natoya Goule and Rogers could follow. That set up a three-way sprint for the two automatic qualifying spots. Rogers, last summer’s Olympic bronze medalist, felt her positioning was good.
“I really wanted to be aggressive, be in the mix, stay in good position,” Rogers told a group of reporters after her race.
Hodgkinson led out of the final bend with Goule in hot pursuit. Those two athletes were closer to the inside, and Rogers was in the middle of the track trying to match their pace. In the end Hodgkinson won in 1:58.51 to Goule’s 1:58.73. Rogers nearly caught the Jamaican, but fell slightly short in 1:58.77. Nonetheless, she advanced as the fastest athlete who would finish outside of the top-2 across all three heats.
“All in all, I gave my best today and I’m happy with that,” Rogers said.
Mu, the reigning Olympic champion, ran in heat three, and just like in yesterday’s preliminary round she qualified for the final with little drama. Mu let Ethiopia’s Diribe Welteji lead through 400 meters in the fastest halfway split of the day, 57.1. Mu and Welteji steadily pulled away from the rest of the field, and in the final 100 meters they ran side-by-side with Mu just half a step in front on the outside. Mu got the win in 1:58.12, the fastest time of the day, with Welteji a very close second in 1:58.16.
“Definitely a faster-paced race, which I kind of wanted to have going into this,” Mu said, comparing tonight’s effort with her prelim where she ran 2:01.30. “I wasn’t expecting someone else to take the lead, but I’m happy that I got that experience just because no one knows what’s going to happen in the final, so just be prepared for anything. I just really wanted to focus on keeping my composure and just going with the leader and just make sure I had that extra push (at the end).”
Behind Mu and Welteji, Slovenia’s Anita Horvat –who only moved up to the 800m last year after focusing on the 400m for eight seasons– sprinted hard in the homestretch and got third in a personal best 1:59.60, her first-ever sub-2:00 effort. Her hard work paid off as she earned the second and final time qualifier and made her first-ever World Athletics Championships final in any discipline.
“This is just amazing,” Horvat told the championships’ flash quotes interviewers. “I still cannot believe it. I saw the clock when we turned the 400m and I saw that it was fast, but I just kept fighting. My legs were burning but I just did not give up.”
The women’s 800m final will be Sunday at 18:35 local time. No American woman has ever won an 800m title.