When the gun sounds for Sunday’s final of the women’s 400m, predictably, two Russians will toe the line. What was not envisioned, was that a pair of Bulgarians would be in competing in the final as well.
In the first of two semi-finals, the rapidly-improving Bulgarian Vania Stamboleva edged two-time defending champion Natalya Nazarova, 50.66 to 50.67 to emerge as a strong podium threat. Despite the narrow defeat, it was Nazarova, the only woman to dip under 50 seconds this season, who left the track considerably less fatigued.
Defending silver medallist Olesya Krasnomovets was the fastest with her 50.61 win in the second heat.
Jamaican Novlene Williams, who finished third in the first heat with a personal best 51.25. also moved on.
Christine Amertil of the Bahamas, the 2003 silver medallist, who was a distant second (51.09) and another Bulgarian, Mariyana Dimitrova (52.17) advanced as well from the second heat. Dimitrova, a semi-finalist at the 2004 Olympics, arrived in the Russian capital with a modest indoor best of just 52.40.
Conspicuously missing will be American champion Sanya Richards, last season’s fastest runner outdoors. Richards, the silver medallist at last year’s World outdoor championships, and IAAF World Ranked number one faded badly over the final 40 metres and finished fourth (52.46) in the second semi, and will not move on.