EUGENE (21-Jul) — On a night that left Hayward Field rocking after Americans Noah Lyles, Kenny Bednarek and Erriyon Knighton swept the 200m, qualifying in the men’s and women’s 800m and the men’s 5000m was admittedly less electric.
Nonetheless, nearly all of the favorites advanced in those events and American Athing Mu and Kenyan Emmanuel Korir each moved a step closer to potentially winning gold medals here in the 800m like they did in the Tokyo Olympics 11 months ago.
Mu, who is just 20, made her first appearance at a World Athletics Championships here tonight in the preliminary round. Running in the third of six heats, she controlled the pace from gun to tape, and won unpressed in an energy-saving 2:01.30.
“It felt pretty good,” Mu casually told reporters with a surgical mask around her chin. “I mean, first round. I thought it was going to be more intense on my legs just because I haven’t competed in about a month.
“But, felt really good, really smooth, just kind of going out there and taking the pace on my own and just bringing it home,” added Mu
Both Mu’s American teammates, Raevyn Rogers and Ajee’ Wilson, also advanced to the semi-finals. Rogers, who earned the bronze medal in Tokyo last August and ran in heat five, found herself bottled up in traffic most of her heat. As she rounded the final bend in fifth position, she went to the outside and surged past the four women in front of her –Habitam Alemu of Ethiopia, Noelie Yarigo of Benin, Prudence Sekgodiso of South Africa, and Chrisann Gordon-Powell of Jamaica– to take the win in 2:01.36. She only finished 1/100th of a second ahead of Alemu, pipping her at the line.
When asked by reporters if she had planned that kind of come-from-behind race, she laughed.
“No, not at all,” Rogers said. “Luckily, I’ve done the 1500 and it was just as physical. After yesterday seeing how physical the boys were I just knew that that was going to happen today, too, for us. It was definitely physical. There were a couple of times in the race where I really had to adjust mentally. But things like that, you can’t let it affect you.”
Wilson, who finished third in heat four, had a less dramatic race. She finished third behind France’s Renelle Lamote and Ethiopia’s Freweyni Hailu in 2:01.02 and landed Team USATF’s third automatic qualifier to tomorrow’s semi-finals.
“Watching the men race yesterday, there was so much action and we really wanted to avoid that,” said Wilson.
Also advancing was 2021 Olympic silver medalist Keely Hodgkinson of Great Britain. She led heat two out of the final bend and won going away in 2:00.88 undisturbed by an athlete collision behind her. Australia’s Catriona Bisset, who had led for the first 600 meters, tangled legs with Italy’s Elaina Bello’ in front of her. Bisset fell hard to the track, face first, and although Bello’ was able to stay on her feet she only finished sixth in 2:02.78. Luckily, both women were advanced to the semi-finals by race officials.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be such a quick pace at 400m and I am just happy to get through,” said Hodgkinson who, like Mu, is only 20. She continued: “I got my ankle clipped a few times but I’m grateful to come through safely.”
Other athletes with good medal chances who advanced were Ethiopia’s Diribe Welteji, who posted the round’s fastest time of 1:58.83; Britain’s Jemma Reekie, who finished behind Welteji in heat 1 in 1:59.09; Uganda’s Halima Nakaayi; Jamaica’s Natoya Goule; and Kenya’s Mary Moraa.
In the men’s 800m semi-finals, Korir had to sprint hard the last 100 meters of the first heat to prevail over compatriot Wyclife Kinyamal and Australia’s Peter Bol. The 2017 NCAA 800m champion for the University of Texas El Paso clocked 1:45.38 to Kinyamal’s 1:45.49 and Bol’s 1:45.58 (Bol advanced on time).
“I’m OK for the final,” said Korir, who is still without a kit sponsor for this season. “It’s going to be tough, I know, but I will do my best.”
Algeria’s Djamel Sedjati (1:45.44) and France’s Gabriel Tual (1:45.53) were the automatic qualifiers out of heat two. Eighteen year-old Noah Kibet of Kenya, the 2022 World Athletics Indoor Championships silver medalist finished eighth, and last, and did not advance. Slimane Moula of Algeria won the third and final heat by sprinting past Canada’s Marco Arop just before the line. His time of 1:44.89 was the fastest on the day. Arop, who finished second in 1:45.12, was unbothered by Moula’s last-minute surge and was expecting it.
“I think I just stayed patient early on, saw an opening, took it, and knew as long as I closed hard I would finish top two,” said Arop. “I knew Moula has a great finish; I’ve seen him run like that all year. I think part of me was sort of expecting him at the end, but as long as it’s just him I’m OK.”
The men’s 5000m qualifying saw a slow heat followed by a fast one. Only the first five men were guaranteed to advance to the final from each heat, and that made for a wild seven-man sprint in the last 100 meters of heat one. Ugandan’s Oscar Chelimo and Joshua Cheptegei, Americans Grant Fisher and Abdi Nur, Ethiopian’s Selemon Barega and Telahun Haile Bekele, and Kenya’s Nicholas Kipkorir all came out of the final bend together and finished in a span of just 53/100ths of a second. Chelimo got the win in 13:24.24, then Fisher (13:24.44), Barega (same time as Fisher), Cheptegei (13:24.47), and Nur (13:24.48), got the five automatic qualifiers. Kipkorir finished sixth in 13:24.56, which was fast enough to get a time qualifier, but Bekele’s seventh place finish in 13:24.77 left him out of Sunday’s final, which was unexpected.
Fisher said that he was aware of his position during that intense sprint and made sure he finished in the first five.
“You don’t really want to mess around with the small q’s when you’re in the first heat,” Fisher told reporters. “Kind of bank on no small q’s coming out of the first; just get it done.”
The second heat went much faster, thanks to the early front-running of Guatemala’s Luis Grijalva. Grijalva went through 3000m in 8:05.08 with a several meter lead, but then Kenya’s Daniel Simiu Ebenyo caught him. Over the next several laps, a six-man lead group formed: Grijalva, Kenya’s Ebenyo and Jacob Krop, Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen, Ethiopia’s Yomif Kejelcha, and Canada’s Moh Ahmed. Those six got over the line some six seconds clear of the rest of the field, and all of them advanced. Krop got the win in 13:13.30, Ingebrigtsen was second in 13:13.92, and Grijalva was third in 13:14.04. Both Ingebrigtsen and Grijalva were waving their arms in the homestretch encouraging cheers from the crowd.
“For me it was a really big deal,” said Grijalva whose family brought him to the United States when he was just a baby and he now enjoys protected status under the federal government’s DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program. “For me representing Guatemala, which doesn’t have too much representation in athletics and sports all around, was a big privilege. I get to put 14 million people behind my back and for me to make the final is good for Guatemala but also for Central America as a whole. Any time you can be a top-15 finalist in the world is pretty special.”
American Willy Kincaid failed to advance after falling at the top of the backstretch in the third lap of heat two. He got up, ran well for the rest of the race, and finished a respectable 11th in 13:25.02. He said that he was not expecting the race to be so physical.
“Right when it did get physical I went down,” he said.