Surviving the toughest qualification round of the morning, all the favourites advanced to Sunday afternoon’s final of the women’s 800m.
Only 16 women started in the event, eliminating a quarter final round, with only the top two from each of the two heats, plus the next two fastest advancing.
Running a conservative pace, Czech indoor 1500m champion Lenka Masna led the tightly knit field through the first two laps in 1:01.64. Yuliya Krevsun of Ukraine took her turn with the lead over the third lap but the pace – 31.3 for the third lap – remained on the slow side.
Then it was American Anna Pierce’s (formerly Willard) turn to take control. Pierce, the winner at the World Athletics Final last September, moved into third as she headed off the penultimate turn, and into the lead for good as she entered the final bend. She clocked 2:03:05 to win unpressed, which forced a much faster race in heat two.
Briton Jenny Meadows decided to take control of the second heat, clicking off a steady 29.20 first 200 metres and leading the field through the half in 59.78, with American Alysia Johnson the closest pursuer.
European champion Mariya Savinova, with Pierce and Meadows among the leading contenders, ran well back for the first 400 metres but began to make her move just beyond the midway point.
The Russian champion moved into second with 300 metres remaining and with the runner-up spot secured as she came off the final bend, didn’t feel the need to chase down Meadows who reached the line in 2:00.39.
Savinova was just a step back in 2:00.95 in second, while Johnson’s early aggressive tactics paid off with her fourth place finish in 2:01.55 to move on as well. She was later upgraded to third following the disqualification of Poland’s Angelika Cichocka for a lane violation. That worked to Egle Balciunaite’s advantage, who was upgraded as well after her 2:02.37 personal best.
“It feels really good to start that way,” said the versatile Pierce, who has sub-4 1500m credentials outdoors. “The race was actually easier than I expected. I’m in good shape so I knew I would be able to handle two hard races.”
No American woman has ever won a global 800m title indoors. And one expects that Pierce isn’t looking to emulate Joetta Clark, the only American medalist ever in the event, who raced to bronze in 1993 and 1997.
Meadows, one of Great Britain’s strong medal hopes in the Qatari capital, is also chasing the first gold in the event for her country.
“Psychologically, it helps a lot to cross the line first,” said Meadows, the bronze medalist from last year’s World championships and the freshly-minted UK record holder. “I’m more confident now.”
Savinova too was confident, and cautiously optimistic as she seeks the first win in the event for Russia. “I’m very satisfied with second, the main thing was to qualify,” the 24-year-old said. “But to be honest I didn’t expect Meadows to start so fast.”
The final is Sunday afternoon at 17:15 local time.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF