London 2012: Women’s 1500m round 1 heat 1

In this tactical analysis I will be using the vocabulary I developed in my guidebook to 1500m tactics, available here on thcson.com. This time I will analyze women’s round 1 and heat 1 at the London Olympics.

Race video on YouTube

Women’s 1500m round 1 heat 1

Relative ability

Again, I assess participants’ relative ability in this race by ranking them according to season bests (as reported in the start lists). This leads to the following classification for this heat.

Favorites: Aregawi, Lakhouad, Obiri, Tomasova

Average contestants: Jamal, England, Harrer, Stellingwerf, Rowbury, Van Dalen, Shevchenko, Muncan, Rodriguez

Underdogs: Klocova, Capkova, Karakaya

Pace

This was a fast heat, with intermediate times 1.07,18 and 2.13,67. So we might not reap a very rich harvest of tactical lessons from this heat, either.

The start

The start illustrates clearly why starting on the inside is a tactical disadvantage. Lakhouad starts fast from the innermost position 1 and is in front with four or five other athletes at 50m. Then she falls half a step behind, maybe because she risks taking the lead if she accelerates more.  She ends up somewhere around 10th position in the first curve as a number of athletes pass her after she’s boxed in. Contrast this with Harrer, who starts from position 15 and is clearly one step slower than Lakhouad in the start. She still has plenty of room on the outside and moves into fourth or fifth position in the first curve.

There isn’t much Lakhouad could have done to avoid falling so far behind. Inside starters might need to plan their pre-race strategy on the assumption that they will be boxed into a red position in the first lap.

The jog

Tomasova wants to lead, and it’s interesting to see how she moves up on the first front straight. She intentionally moves outward and as Obiri gives way she can accelerate past England. This shows how easy it can be to get out of the box in the early stages of the jog.

Pre-race favorite Aregawi accelerates past several runners at the 400m mark to catch up with Tomasova. Particularly Harrer has a great opportunity to follow Aregawi and obtain a good tactical position – behind a favorite, close to the front, inside. But as others react to Aregawi’s move Harrer gets passed and is forced to the outside, where she remains for the rest of the race. Opportunities like this pass quickly.

Other than that, the jog is uneventful from a tactical perspective due to the fast pace.

The surge

There’s a surprising increase in urgency at 900m, as several runners try to move forward. Rowbury gets stuck on the outside and probably runs 5-6 meters further in the curve 900-1000 than the inside runners. This is a result of her hesitation on the straight 800-900, where she moved outside of the main group but did not run past Harrer. Clearly she could have saved many meters in the curve by either staying further back in the group or by passing Harrer decisively. There should be no reason to deliberately seek an outside position before the surge if the pace has been this fast.

Considering that the first six runner’s go through by right, I think many contestants again exhibit an unnecessary urgency from 1000m-1200m as they run in a formation which is at times six runners wide. There’s a lot of space on the inside right behind the leader, which is quite unusual in a fast race like this. Jamal makes a particularly bad tactical decision as she sprints outward at 1100m just when she could have moved inside ahead of Van Dalen.

The sprint

At 1200m three favorites are in front, with six closely packed followers. Jamal has energy to spare and moves up a few positions on the back straight in the first sprint. But as the favorites pull away in front, the group spreads out and nobody needs to do any tactical thinking at the end. However, it’s worth noting that England and Stellingwerff, the two runners who staid inside during the surge, clearly have more to give at the end than Harrer and Rowbury who surged outside. But then Jamal also succeeds despite running the curve 1100-1200 horrifically far out.

In retrospect, the tactical lesson I would take from this heat is that excessive urgency can be infectious. Most of the women in this race are running close to their maximum pace, yet the pressure still escalates outside in the surge. Cooler tacticians would have stayed inside in such a fast race, saving their energy and trusting that the field will spread out in the sprint.

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