Maria Savinova, Russia’s Olympic gold medallist and defending World 800m champion, was in peak form, ready to win another home gold in front of a crowd which included many of her family and friends.
Yet, in the end, she had to settle for silver behind Kenyan surprise Eunice Sum. Why? According to the crestfallen home runner, it all came down to tactics.
“It was my tactical mistake,” said Savinova, who followed Sum past the US athlete who had led boldly from the start and opened up a 15m lead at the halfway point, Alysia Johnson Montano.
“I didn’t believe that Eunice could keep that speed to the finish. We all make tactical mistakes. This race is purely tactical because you can be well prepared and ready to peak for a championship, and yet you lose. I congratulate her. It’s my loss,” reflected Savinova wistfully.
“With what happened to me at the finish, I didn’t know what happened to me in my head, but getting to the finish line was hard for everybody. We were all feeling weak!
“About 20 metres before the finish I was finding it very hard. Before, I always had easy finishes, but in this particular race it was not easy. It was my mistake, and I will discuss it with my coach because the last three weeks of training has been really good.”
No doubts about catching front-runner Montano
Savinova insisted, however, that she had never been in doubt about catching up with the US front-runner.
“For the rest of the race, I felt very comfortable,” said Savinova. “I was 100 per cent sure I would be able to catch up Alysia and it happened; but I didn’t notice Eunice was finishing really well!”
As the exhausted Johnson Montano collapsed over the line in fourth place, with team-mate Brenda Martinez nipping past her on the inside to take bronze, it seemed another tactical misjudgement had been made.
“I had watched the first round and the semi-finals and saw Alysia was going to set a high pace,” commented Sum. “Today I thought she was going through 400m in 55 seconds. I said to myself, ‘I will stay a little bit behind.’ So I was comfortable.”
Martinez, too, said she was confident her team-mate’s bold approach would prove ultimately unsuccessful.
“Alysia doing what she did was pretty hard,” said Martinez.
“For me I had to run my own race. I just knew I had to be patient. It was a matter of knowing when to go. Over the last 100 I had to dig deep. I knew we were going to reel Alysia in, but I didn’t know it was going to be so hard! I didn’t know if I had got third place until about a minute after the race.”
Sum didn’t expect to make the podium
Asked if she expected to win, Sum replied: “Not really. I was going step-by-step here. In Daegu two years ago, I didn’t get to the final. I am really happy with gold but I didn’t really expect to get to the podium. It came as a surprise, and I am really happy.
“If you see how I performed at the beginning of the season, I did more 1500s than 800s, but I decided to do the 800m at the trials.”
Like Sum, Martinez insisted that she had not been thinking in terms of medals.
“I was coming in here and taking it round-by-round and focusing on the task in hand,” she said. “When I reached the final I knew I would have to produce the race of my life, but to win a bronze medal was incredible.”
Savinova arrived at the post-race press conference with a large bunch of flowers which she said had been given to her by friends and supporters after the race.
“I didn’t expect to see them because all the tickets for the last day were sold so I didn’t know how they managed to find tickets. There were so many of my fans here, my whole family was here, my husband’s family were here to with flags and banners.
“I would like to thank all of them, and all the Russian fans who have come to these championships.”
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF