Sunday, 09 August 2009

Women's 800m - PREVIEW

Mariya Savinova (RUS) wins the 2009 European Indoor title in Turin  (Getty Images)

Mariya Savinova (RUS) wins the 2009 European Indoor title in Turin (Getty Images)

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    • USA's Maggie Vessey runs a 1:57.84 world lead in Monaco; the surprise of the night.
    • Kenya's Janeth Jepkosgei wins the women's 800m final in Osaka
    • Morocco’s Hasna Benhassi wins the 800m in Jerez
    • Pamela Jelimo returns to her winning ways in Heusden-Zolder

    What a difference a year makes.

    A year ago, 18-year-old Pamela Jelimo emerged from obscurity in her dominating build-up to Beijing, rewriting the all-time list in the 800m before capturing Olympic gold. This year, the $1 million ÅF Golden League Jackpot winner has returned a shadow of her former self, leaving the event among the most wide open on the World championships programme.

    Slowed by early season injury and erratic training, Jelimo’s post-Olympic campaign opened on the sluggish side, but she is beginning to show a comeback with a pair of sub-two minute clockings, most recently with her 1:59.49 season’s best at the Kenyan trials.

    The winner in Nairobi was reigning World champion Janeth Jepkosgei, who struggled with injuries of her own early on before finally making her season’s debut in Lausanne in early July. There, and in Rome three days later she didn’t look like the world-beater she was two years ago, but her solid 1:59.31 victory over Jelimo in the trials final did at least illustrate she’ll be a medal contender in Berlin.

    While no single runner has been particularly dominant this season – 17 women appear in the year’s top-20 list – the most consistent has been Russian champion Mariya Savinova. Since storming to the European indoor title in March, the 23-year-old has won three of her four competitions, topped by her 1:57.90 career best at the Moscow Open on 1 July. Her lone loss came in Monaco late last month where she was out-kicked by Maggie Vessey, this year’s surprise American find.

    The American has produced a break-out campaign at 27, improving her career best from 2:02.01 to 1:57.84 in Monaco, her fourth attempt in chasing the World championships ‘A’ qualifier after finishing fourth at the U.S. championships. While she’s lacked consistency, she’ll arrive in Berlin with a major boost of confidence.

    Vessey status as world leader after her Monaco race lasted just three days when another surprise emerged at the African junior championships in Bambous, Mauritius. Borrowing from the Jelimo playbook, it was 18-year-old South African Caster Semenya to put in an early bid for the teenager of the year honours with her sensation 1:56.72 victory, the first and only sub-1:57 of the season. Untested in major championships – she didn’t advance from the heats at last year’s World junior championships – anything is possible for this unknown quantity.

    Always meriting special attention is Moroccan Hasna Benhassi, who has taken medals in each of the past two World championships and Olympic Games. The 31-year-old has clocked 1:59.03 this year, but her pre-championships form over the past five seasons was never indicative of her major race preparedness.

    The always formidable Russian squad includes Svetlana Klyuka, who’s performed well at major meets, taking second in the European championships in 2006, seventh in Osaka in 2007 and fourth in Beijing a year ago. Her 1:58.23 season’s best came in the heats of the Russian championships. Joining her and Savinova will be Elena Kofanova, the European U23 champion who improved her PB to 1:58.60 at the Moscow Open behind Savinova, and who just celebrated her 20th birthday on 8 August.

    Others who should play a role in the medal hunt include Spaniard Mayte Martínez, the 2007 bronze medallist and Ukraine’s Yuliya Krevsun, a Beijing finalist and European Team Championship winner in 1:58.62.

    Bob Ramsak for the IAAF