IAAF World Athletics Championships 2017: Peerless Caster Semenya takes 800m gold with sensational final thrust
Beating Caster Semenya is almost next to impossible. Since the second half of 2015 and after the Rio Olympics, Semenya hasn’t lost an 800 metres race.
Once the Bolt mania was over, one could look forward to a race where an upset was almost impossible. It could have happened, if someone had bull-dozed Caster Semenya or sent her to the wrong stadium. But for almost 40 seconds in the latter part of the second lap, you couldn't be faulted for thinking, Gosh! It might happen.
Since the second half of 2015 and after the Rio Olympics, Semenya hasn’t lost an 800 metres race. Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba did some excellent front running. But when you have Semenya somewhere at the back, 3-4 runners behind, you kind of feel more terrified. She can either come from the right or the left, you don’t know and just when you think and feel and see that finish line like a prison boundary wall, Caster go past you like a Ferrari.
Semenya doesn’t like front running. She waits, waits till the last minute, till the ones in front kind of become comfortable and then she pushes the pace. But thanks to Niyonsaba's early pace, Semenya's time of 1:55.16 was the fastest this year. Niyonsaba’s first 200 metres was a fiery 27.08 but by the time the lap was done, the pace had lessened. With the bell going, the front runners were Niyonsaba, Ajee Wilson and Kenya’s Olympic bronze medallist Margaret Wambui. At the fourth spot was Britain’s Lynsey Sharp. Caster sat at fifth, running comfortably.
With 250 metres left, the pace increased. Niyonsaba was pushing everybody out of their comfort zone, trying to gauge who would make their move. And the moment, the others felt that they had pulled the ace out of their packs, Caster made her move. Wambui didn’t last while Caster moved clear of the others and in the last ten metres, she ran away with the gold. Wilson took the bronze and Niyonsaba the silver.
Semenya later praised the fans: “I just love you guys,” she said over the stadium speakers. “It feels like home in London. There are such fantastic people here. Beautiful. I'm lucky to have a great support team who work with me. Full credit to them. Another world title is a fantastic honour for me and I love to do it here in London. The crowd are so welcoming to me and it makes it feel even more special.”
Niyonsaba paid tribute to Semenya, “I am very emotional now. I congratulate Caster Semenya. I would like to beat her. Everything is possible.”
After a very slow pace in the initial part of the women's 5,000 metres, Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana cut loose. The fourth lap was a fast 65.57, followed by 66.21 for the fifth lap. Yet, it didn’t break down Kenya’s Hellen Onsando Obiri who stuck to her heels while the rest got left behind and ran a different race. There were more 68-second laps but Obiri was holding her own. Ayana sensed her back constantly.
On the last lap, with around 300 metres to go, Obiri with a little more gas in the tank, streaked ahead and didn’t stop. The Kenyan crossed the line in 14:34.87 to secure her first big title.
“I was telling myself to go. I could see Ayana was not going so I thought, ‘why not?’ So I said, ‘go’. I am mentally strong so I knew I was capable,” said Obiri. “When I crossed the line I was extremely happy, and just wanted to celebrate. All my emotions came out. I wanted the 5,000 metres gold a lot.”
The initial lead helped Ayana keep the fast-finishing Sifan Hassan away. "Compared to Rio this is a bigger achievement,” she said. “I’ve had many injuries this year so I am very happy with two medals. I have been injured for the whole season and haven't been able to get over it. The pain came back after the 10,000m. I did my best today but Hellen was too good at finishing.”
In the 1500 metres, it looked like a 1-2-3 for Kenya. They were strong initially and set quite a pace for the others. Timothy Cheruiyot was the early leader and along with Elijah Motonei Manangoi they sped through the first lap with Great Britain's Chris O’Hare and Czech Republic’s Jakub Holusa on their heels. Asbel Kiprop, winner of the last three titles moved into third place with only two laps to go.
Meanwhile, Norway’s Filip Ingebrigtsen moved ahead and joined the Kenyan’s. On the last lap, Spain’s Adel Mechaal and Bahrain’s Sadik Mikhou also made their bids. Suddenly the race was open. Cheruiyot and Manangoi held onto the first two places. Kiprop couldn’t take the pace. Ingebrigtsen now in third place didn’t have enough to push for the top two as the Kenyans crossed the line with Manangoi taking gold in 3:33.61 followed by Cheruiyot.
“It was such a good race and I’m so pleased to be a world champion,” said Manangoi. “I had a difficult race as Timothy raced very well, but I had that extra strength.”
Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim was unbeaten in six competitions plus he had seven of the eight best clearances in the world and true to reputation and form he won the high jump title for Qatar. Barshim sealed the gold with his first attempts at 2.20 metres, 2.25 metres, 2.29 metres, 2.32 metres and 2.35 metres. This was Barshim’s first World Championship gold after silver in 2013 and a fourth place in the last championships in Beijing.
Finally, gold went to a Member of Parliament when Croatia’s Sandra Perkovic threw the discus to 69.30 metres and then improved it to 70.31 metres on her second attempt with another two throws of 70.28 metres and 69.81 metres. It was her fourth title in five global championships – gold at the 2012 Olympics in London, the 2013 World Championships in Moscow and the 2016 Olympics in Rio. "I won my first Olympic gold here and now I have won world championship gold here," said Perkovic.
American Allyson Felix does fly below the radar. With two gold medals in the 4x100m and 4x400m relays – as well as her 400 metres bronze – here in London, Felix has now won 16 World Championships medals, surpassing the previous record of 14 shared by Usain Bolt and Merlene Ottey. She later said, "It does mean so much to me every time. I'm grateful to run with these amazing girls. They work so hard and deserve all their success. It's an honour to run in the relay for Team USA and I will always treasure these moments."
Felix plans to run till the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But would prefer a quiet sending off. Though she was extremely happy that Bolt got such a brilliant send-off. "It was really neat to see that for him, see the appreciation people have for what he’s done,” said Felix, who has nine Olympic medals, including six golds, to go with her record haul from World Championships. "Sometimes, you take it for granted. There’s so much work that comes into this, and to be consistent over the years, sometimes that gets lost. It’s cool to see people appreciate it."
Usain Bolt after the shock injury in the relay spoke to the media one last time at the World Championships, a 15-minute chat after a last lap of honour in the Olympic Stadium. With the loss in the 100 metres and the injury in the relay, Bolt made it very clear that he didn’t regret coming here for the World Championships.
"No, I’m fine. My fans wanted to see me compete for one more year. Without them, I wouldn’t have accomplished everything over the years. If I could come out here and give the fans a show, that’s fine with me. That’s all I wanted. One championship doesn’t change what I’ve done. After losing the 100 metres someone said to me, 'Muhammad Ali lost his last fight so don’t be too stressed'. I have shown my credentials throughout my career so losing my last race isn’t going to change what I’ve done in my sport," Bolt said.
On a future comeback, Bolt ruled it out completely. "No, I’ve seen too many people return and come back to sport and shame themselves. I won’t be one of those."
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