In a brutally tough qualification round – with just the top two in each of the eight heats plus the eight fastest on time advancing – three of the world’s top 10 failed to advance to Thursday’s semi-finals.
The Cuban duo of Rose Almanza and Sahily Diago plus European silver medallist Renelle Lamote were the biggest casualties of a high-class first round, which saw 16 women dip under two minutes and the slowest qualifier on time record 2:00.00.
In the opening heat – in which Romanian Florina Pierdevara hit 400m in 59.96 – Great Britain’s 2012 European champion Lynsey Sharp cruised to a comfortable win in 2.00.83, finishing 0.16 ahead of Serbia’s 2012 world U20 silver medallist Amela Terzic. Diago – a 1:57.74 performer at her best – had to settle for 2:01.38 in third and exits the competition.
Running off a quick first lap of 58.23 from Margarita Mukasheva of Kazakhstan, the red-hot pre-event favourite Caster Semenya cruised to the heat two win in what appeared an effortless 1:59.31. World indoor silver medallist Ajee’ Wilson of the US executed a season’s best of 1:59.44 to snare the second automatic spot. Also advancing on time were 2015 World Championships finalist Shelayna Oskan-Clarke of Great Britain (1:59.67) and China’s Chunyu Wang courtesy of a PB of 1:59.93.
In heat three, Selina Buchel of Switzerland posted a pacey 1:59.00 to take the win from Kenya’s world indoor bronze medallist Margaret Wambui of Kenya (1:59.66). Both benefited from a rapid first lap of 58.75 from India’s Tintu Lukka with the third-place finisher Natalia Pryshchepa, the European champion of Ukraine, also advancing on time (1:59.80).
There was no place in the semi-final for world indoor 1500m champion Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands, who finished fifth in 2:00.27, the morning after placing fifth in the Olympic 1500m final.
With the gold and silver medallists from Beijing last year – Marina Arzamasova and Melissa Bishop – pitched in the same heat four, we were always likely to see an entertaining race.
However, after the Belarusian and Canadian took the two automatic spots, everyone was still taken aback by the overall quality of a heat which heralded four PBs and two national records.
Bishop produced a superlative run to stop the clock in 1:58.38, just 0.06 clear of Arzamasova. Behind – and benefiting from a blistering first lap of 57.27 from Uganda’s Halimah Nakaagi – Habitam Alemu of Ethiopia took third in 1:58.99 while Noelie Yarigo of Benin set a national record of 1:59.12 for fourth.
Nakaagi was rewarded for her committed run by taking fifth in 1:59.76, the trio behind Bishop and Arzamasova going through to the semi-finals as non-automatic qualifiers. 2013 world U18 champion Anita Hinriksdottir set an Icelandic record of 2:00.14, but just missed out on advancing.
Kenya’s 2013 world champion Eunice Sum produced a controlled piece of two-lap running to take heat five in 1:59.83. Leading the field through 400m in 58.40, the experienced Kenyan rarely looked troubled with the fast-finishing Ukrainian Natalia Lupu grabbing the second automatic spot 0.08 adrift.
US champion Kate Grace in third (1:59.96) and Belgian Renee Eykens (2:00.00) both squeezed into the semi-finals as the seventh and eighth fastest on time.
Just 0.10 separated the top four in a desperately tight heat six, won by the late-charging Angelika Cichocka in 2:00.42.
Just 0.03 behind the Pole and snatching the all-important second spot was Italian champion Yusneysi Santiusti. However, Rose Almanza of Cuba, who looked set for the win down the majority of the home stretch, missed out on a semi-final spot.
European silver medallist Renelle Lamote of France was the major casualty in heat seven, winding up a distant fifth in 2:02.19.
In a slow run heat, a late burst by Poland’s 2014 European bronze medallist Joanna Jozwik helped her claim the win in 2:01.58, with Kenya’s Winny Chebet taking the second automatic spot in 2:01.65.
Francine Niyonsaba, regarded by many as the second favourite, produced a trouble-free run in heat eight to ease to victory in 1:59.84. The world indoor champion from Burundi was never in difficulty as she finished 0.20 clear of Sweden’s Lovisa Lindh, who set a PB to advance.
Steve Landells for the IAAF