Since all races from London 2012 are available in high quality video on YouTube, I thought it would be fun to analyze them in more detail from a tactical perspective. Please note that I will be using the vocabulary I developed in my guidebook to 1500m tactics, which is available on this webpage. Let’s start with men’s 1500m, round 1 and heat 1:
Race video on Youtube
I will use the simplest possibly method to assess the participants’ relative ability in the race: ranking by season bests (as reported in the start lists). This led me to the following classification for this heat.
Favorites: Kiprop, Gebremedhin, Makhloufi
Average contestants: Manzano, Rodriguez, Gregson, Murray, Mustaoui
Underdogs: Nikolaev, Al-Garni, Teweldebrhan, Carvalho
This heat also included three inferior runners who fell behind early. Their performances were clearly of no tactical interest.
This turned out to be a fast heat from start to finish, with split times 58,65 – 1.57,37 – 2.54,12.
Two underdogs, Carvalho and Nikolaev, are very keen on taking the lead. Carvalho starts from position 14 on the start line, very far out, and seems to accelerate into the curve in order to move ahead of Gebremedhin. This excessive reaction puts him in the lead, half a step ahead of others at the 100m mark. Nikolaev also starts on the outside, in position 9, and moves up from the middle of the group with a quick acceleration at 100m as a route opens up ahead of him.
One would have assumed that Carvalho and Nikolayev, as underdogs, should have taken care to avoid the yellow position at all costs. As outside starters it should not have been difficult for them. But it seems as if an aggressive start was a deliberate pre-race strategy at least on the part of Nikolayev.
Nikolaev volunteers for pacemaking duty and takes the lead at 250m. He stays there until the surge begins at 900m. The pace in the jog is about 95% pace for these men. With such a fast pace the other runners wisely keep their respective positions throughout the jog with almost no alterations.
Let’s recall how a fast jog stage should influence tactics in the surge.
- The field will spread out as some runners begin to tire. Consequently, runners who are boxed in do not have to be very concerned about lack of space in the sprint.
- Runners at the back of the field will have to decide whether they should stay inside or try to pass others on the outside.
- Since this is a heat, and a fast one, the first sprint from 1200m to 1300m is not going to be crucial.
Al-Garni takes the lead at 900m and runs a fast surge stage as he covers the third lap in about 57 seconds. The pace is so fast that the runners at the back begin to tire and fall behind. Clearly they’re not thinking about tactical moves anymore. Al-Garni’s fast surge to the front seeks very risky for an underdog.
As the surge ends at 1200m, the only runner who’s boxed in even a little bit is Kiprop, right behind the leader. All three favorites are in front and confident of qualification since the six first athletes will go through directly.
Makhloufi takes the lead into the final curve and the field lines up almost in one queue behind him. Clearly this race is purely about endurance. Al-Garni holds on impressively for direct qualification.
As it turned out, this heat was so much faster than the others that 11 runners, including Nikolayev, qualified. So in the end his pacemaking strategy paid dividends. It shows why not even the foremost principle of 1500m tactics, always avoid the lead, can be a general rule.
All in all heat 1 was so fast that it didn’t offer much material for a tactical analysis.