Given the quality of the athletes on the start line in the semifinals, there didn’t seem to be enough places available in the women’s 800m final.
There were 15 runners with season’s bests below two minutes, with nine of those times quicker than 1:59, and throw in the fact that championships racing is often tactical, predicting the first two automatic qualifiers wasn’t an easy task. Picking up a qualification on time was anybody’s for the taking.
The favourites, however, did make it through unscathed and in such a way that promises a highly competitive race on Sunday.
Caster Semenya, Francine Niyonsaba, Margaret Wambui and Ajee’ Wilson all progressed in serene fashion, although it doesn’t take a mathematician to observe that four into three podium positions is a difficult equation to square.
The first race featured the 23-year-old Wilson, who set the USA national record 1:55.61 in Monaco last month.
Striding out from the gun, the 2012 world U20 champion broke in first place and went through 200m in a swift 27.54, establishing a lead that she wouldn’t relinquish.
Clocking 57.82 at 400m, the American led Canada’s 2015 world silver medallist by a metre and extended her advantage to three metres or so by the end. Rarely can 1:59.21 have looked so easy and Wilson will feel confident of going much quicker in the final should circumstances require it.
Bishop also looked relaxed, holding off first Cuba’s Rose Almanza and then Benin’s fast finishing Noelie Yarigo, crossing the line in 1:59.56.
The second semi-final featured Olympic champion Semenya, who took a bronze medal in the 1500m on Monday. In the heats, she had waited until the final 70 metres before surging through to win, but here she reacted to the gun like a sprinter, attempting to hit the front at the break.
It was Great Britain’s Olympic finalist Lynsey Sharp who actually led, edging Switzerland’s Selena Buchel, before Wilson’s training partner Charlene Lipsey hit the front, running 28.1 for the first 200m.
She stayed there until, with 190 metres remaining, Semenya powered through. Her victory was never in doubt from that point on, but the battle for second provided drama.
It looked to be a straight battle between Lipsey and Sharp, until Poland’s Angelika Cichocka sped through on the inside to qualify in 1:59.32, a season’s best, having been as far back as sixth place with 100m remaining.
To make matters worse for Sharp, she was then disqualified following a tangle of arms with Lipsey in the final strides, although was reinstated later in the evening.
The final race featured both Kenya’s Wambui and Niyonsaba of Burundi, the silver and bronze medallists from Rio last year.
The 24-year-old Niyonsaba has made a habit of consistently clocking times below two minutes in recent seasons and moved to the front at the earliest opportunity, tracked by Great Britain’s Shelayna Oskan-Clarke.
Following a 1:00.89 first lap, South Africa’s Gena Lofstrand made a failed attempt to wrestle the lead from Niyonsaba and the Burundian maintained that spot all the way to the line, glancing at Wambui, who had moved into second, as the pair closed out the race in 2:01.11 and 2:01.19 respectively.
The USA’s Brenda Martinez, silver medallist four years in Moscow, attempted to pass but couldn’t do so, her 2:01.31 not enough to qualify on time.
Instead, Lipsey and Sharp from the second race progressed.
Dean Hardman for the IAAF