When it comes to kicks in track and field, there are few who can match Caster Semenya over 800m. She underlined her dominance of the two-lap as she won her semifinal at the world championships in London last night in 1min 58.90sec, the fastest time overall.
The two-time Olympic champion hit the front coming off the back straight, letting her rivals behind her battle it out for the remaining spots in tomorrow’s final.
“The race was good,” she said, predicting the final would be decided over the final 300m.
“We have a strong field so we just try to relax as much as we can.”
Four of the runners competed at the Rio Games last year, including runner-up Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and Kenya’s bronze medallist, Margaret Wambui.
Also there is Canadian Melissa Bishop, fourth in Brazil, as well as new danger girl, American Ajee Wilson, a former world champion at U18 andU20 levels.
Throw in Charlene Lipsey, another American, and you have six of the world’s seven fastest runners, separated by just more than two seconds on their times this year.
“Anyone can win the race,” said Semenya, whose kick is likely to push her 800m unbeaten stretch to 28 tomorrow night.
Niyonsaba won the slowest semifinal of the night, clocking 2:01.11, which threw Semenya’s compatriot, Gena Lofstrand, off her stride.
“I was disappointed,” said Lofstrand, who was hoping to improve on her 2:01.50 personal best. “I was expecting them to go faster.”
When she realised it was too slow, Lofstrand attacked before the bell, trying to shake the race up.
But when her competitors moved over the final 200m, she was unable to stay with them.
“I’m not used to running like that,” Lofstrand said.
“I tried to go out hard for the first 600m and then try to hang on.
“I needed to go out hard like I did in the heats. It’s my own fault.”
Semenya is South Africa’s last realistic chance to add to the already record medal haul of five, featuring two gold, one silver and two bronze. Semenya, already with the 1 500m bronze, is looking to join Wayde van Niekerk with double medals.
She won’t be part of the women’s 4x400m in the relay heats later today, but is expected to join them in the final – 45 minutes after the 800m – if they qualify.
Lebogang Shange is the only other SA athlete still to compete, in the men’s 20km race walk tomorrow afternoon.
Niyonsaba and powerful Wambuiwent one-two again in the third heat to progress automatically.
Wilson, who set a US record of 1:55.61 last month and has been in hot form, looked superb in winning the first heat in 1:59.21 from Bishop, the 2015 silver medallist from Canada who looked more like her normal self after labouring through the first round.
The United States have won only one medal in the event – Brenda Martinez’s bronze in 2013 – but 23-year-old Wilson is certainly in the mix for another and will be joined in the final by compatriot Charlene Lipsey.