Battle of the Brits - 800m
The strength of British middle-distance running
The women’s 800m is always a thrilling race to watch, and this year is no different. British talent has excelled on the world stage in the middle-distance events, with three British women making the Tokyo Olympics final, and one making the World Championships (WC) final in Eugene. The Commonwealth Games (CG) features three of the WC finalists, plus World & Olympic 1500m silver medallist Laura Muir, competing in her first 800m race at an outdoor major championship since 2013.
From a British perspective, we see Alex Bell and Olympic and World Silver medallist Keely Hodgkinson competing for Team England, whilst Jenny Selman, Jemma Reekie, and Laura Muir compete for Team Scotland. With top athletes in the mix and Games on home soil, we have a hot race on our hands. Skylab: Elite Performance Analysis takes a look at the 800m over the last two years, and what we can expect from the final this Saturday.
Tokyo Olympics & 2022 Diamond League
A year on from the Olympic final, 4 of those 8 competitors took to their heats in Birmingham; including silver medallist Hodgkinson, 4th placed Reekie, 7th placed Bell and 8th placed Goule. Kenya’s Mary Moraa failed to make it out of her semi-final in Tokyo but has since handed Hodgkinson her only Diamond League (DL) loss this season, highlighting her ability to contend for the medals.
DL and Olympic races are often run very differently, however. The Olympics are the ultimate goal, meaning the best of the best lineup. In contrast, the athletes partaking in each DL race varies with each meeting, and with the presence of pacemakers, the runners are thrown into a time trial. Interestingly, despite a one-off race where they can push for fast times and chase the pacemaker, the 2022 DL races were, on average, around 3s slower than the last Olympic and WC finals.
The Championship rounds show where athletes play their strategy card though, and times in Tokyo saw an average Heat time of 2:02.8, Semi-Final quickening to 1:59.1 and the average final time moving even faster to 1:56.9 (Athing Mu taking gold in 1:55.21). Furthermore, all three medallists in Tokyo ran negative splits whilst the rest of the field ran a faster first 400m, highlighting the importance of pacing and positioning throughout the race to set themselves up for a hard race to the finish line.
Eugene World Championships
Less than 2 weeks before the CG heats was the 800m final at the WC. Hodgkinson again found Olympic Champion Mu too tough to pass, with the aforementioned Moraa in 3rd and Goule in 5th being the only eligible runners from the final for the CG.
This time round we see different tactics to the Olympics, with the whole field running under 58s for the first lap and the strongest holding on and fighting to the end. Just 0.38s separated Gold and Silver, racing near identical splits and 1/10th of a second difference in the first lap. For Keely, she switched up her tactics from Tokyo where she sat towards the back in the first 400-500m before making her way past the pack; compared to Eugene where she followed the leader (Welteji) and stayed in touch with Mu for the first 500m before the pair kicked. Hodgkinson demonstrates she can race fast both ways though, running within half a second of her Olympic Final time.
Commonwealth Games - Battling for Gold
A curve ball for the 800m women in Birmingham is the appearance of Olympic and World 1500m Silver medallist, Laura Muir. Whilst Laura hasn’t raced 800m outdoors in a major championship for many years, she has raced 800s at the British Milers Club events and DL over the last few years; reaching a PB in 2021 with a time of 1:56.73, breaking the Scottish record in the meantime.
The heats showcased fast times for early rounds, however, with only the Top 2 automatically qualifying plus the two fastest losers making the final, it’s no surprise the pace was fast. Moraa, Goule, Muir, and Bell all qualified in under 2 minutes, with Goule, Muir, and Hodgkinson showing their class by leading their races and running negative splits to suit.
With multiple dominant athletes that are capable of running both tactical and hard races, someone will have to play patience. Looking at recent tactics, we can expect to see Moraa trying to stay with the front of the pack and remain in contention with Goule likely to lead over the first half of the race, although whether she can hold on to the kick will remain to be seen. Muir and Hodgkinson both have the strength to lead at the start and pull away, or sit and kick; as Goule typically fades in the last 300m, they’re likely to allow Goule to dictate the fast pace before making their move. Hodgkinson has the strength to pull away from the field in the final 200m, having consistently run sub-30 over the last stretch in recent DL races, the Olympics, and Worlds, dropping a comfortable 28.8 in the heats too.
Athletics Weekly are making a Top 3 prediction for Hodgkinson, Moraa, and Goule in their Commonwealth Games preview. Looking at the splits and race tactics over the last 18 months, at Skylab: EPA we fancy a Hodgkinson, Muir, Moraa Top 3, in that order - come on the Brits!