This analysis is based on my guidebook to 1500m tactics, available here on thcson.com. This time I will analyze men’s round 1 and heat 3 in the London Olympics.
Race video on YouTube
Season bests (as reported in the start lists) give the following classification for this heat:
Favorites: Willis, Chepseba, Schlangen
Average contestants: Iguider, Ruiz, Noor, Centrowitz, Kowal, Ingebrigtsen
Underdogs: Villanueva, Vojta, O’Lionaird, Vazquez
One contestant, Aman Wote, could not be found on my start list.
A relatively slow race: 400m 59,51 and 800m 2.03,50
In the later races Ingebrigtsen turned out to be the most succesful 1500m tactician in London. In this race he utilizes his lucky starting position on the outside of the field. He starts fast to get ahead of the field, stays on the outside and starts looking to his left at 80m, ready to slow down and settle in behind the fastest starter on the inside. Noor takes the lead and Ingebrigtsen moves in behind him by pushing him gently forward. It’s hard to imagine a more successfully executed started from the outside.
Pre-race favorite Willis also does well despite an unlucky starting position on the inside. He goes out slowly enough to be left behind the group, moves out when he gets the chance and then passes most of the field in the first curve even though the pace does not slow down. This much extra distance in the first curve might not be a good tactical decision for an underdog or an average contestant, but a favorite can probably afford to expend a bit more energy early on. Willis now has a green position, which suits favorites well.
It’s hard to understand why Chepseba takes the lead in the jog. His season best is more than 5 second faster than that of an average contestant in this field. A favorite leading the race slowly is inexplicable from a tactical standpoint.
With a favorite in the lead, the other runners more or less stay put during the beginning of the jog. The first one who makes a move on the outside is Kowal, who executes a great overtaking between 600-700m. Kowal is actually the last runner in the field at 500 and is even boxed in a bit by Vasquez in the curve, but he steps outward just when the curve ends and easily passes the entire field on the straight. The important thing to notice is that he makes this tactical decision at an early stage of the race when no other runners are active. The same move would have required a lot more energy on the next straight, 800-900m, when the jog is just about to end. It might even have been impossible.
Vojta and O’Lionard also accelerate after Kowal passes them, but they are a bit late and end up doing a lot of work on the outside without much to show for it. The fight for good positions is a lot more intense on the back straight 800-900, so Vojta and O’Lionard only manage to maintain their positions. This is the risk that underdogs always face in the green positions. If they fail to move forward and/or move closer to the inside early in the race, they end up wasting far too much energy on running wide curves.
Chepseba seems to accelerate at 800m and Willis immediately takes advantage of this opportunity to move out of the box. His position in second place behind a favorite is obviously the ideal place to be when the surge begins.
Willis makes another astute tactical move at 1000m. He initially follows Chepseba but takes a look to his right in the middle of the 1000-1100 straight. He sees the pressure building up on his outside and realizes that he’s running too slowly and may get boxed in soon. He therefore passes Chepseba and takes the lead with the clear intent to lead all the way to the finish. For a pre-race favorite this is a good decision.
Chepseba should now only follow Willis in the inside lane – it’s clearly a good assumption that he won’t get boxed in when he follows a leading favorite through the end of the surge and the sprint. But Chepseba makes a horrible tactical decision as he forces his way outward in the middle of the 1100-1200 curve. Kowal and Ingebrigtsen both take advantage of the space vacated by Chepseba as they latch on to Willis, Iguider and Schlangen.
It’s interesting to compare Kowal’s and Ingebrigtsen’s sprint on the inside to Chepseba’s sprint on the outside. From 1150m to the finish Chepseba runs a distance which is at least 5m longer, if not 10m longer than Kowal’s and Ingebrigtsen’s inside route. If Chepseba had followed the leading favorite on the inside he would have qualified easily.
Ruiz puts a good effort into the first sprint 1200-1300 as he rises from the back of the field to third place. This is a good tactical move, but in the end Schlangen beats Ruiz with a more even sprint by one hundredth of a second.
Centrowitz sets himself up nicely for the first sprint behind Chepseba. He has to jump outside as Chepseba stumbles, but he clearly aims for 6th position and trusts his sprint on the home straight. Ingebrigtsen gives Kowal a slight push in the back just before the finish line when he has nowhere to go and fears that someone might pass him on the outside. Perhaps I should include the push move in my tactical guide as well.