This analysis is based on my guidebook to 1500m tactics, available here on thcson.com. This time I will analyze women’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: Kostetskaya, Uceny, Mishchenko, Dibaba
Average contestants: Bulut, Kipyegon, Achola, Macias, Sifuentes, Weightman
Underdogs: Landaverde, Kareiva, Belete, Desalegn, Buckman
This race was on the border between fast and slow in the jog stage, 400m 1.10,71 and 800m 2.18,19. The end of the race was fast.
The start looks a bit slow and nobody seems willing to take the lead. The only one who makes a tactical move is inside starter Kipyegon. She handily passes the entire field from the back. The other runners go slowly and settle in precisely where their starting position predicted they would.
Macias does a nice job of avoiding the lead position by simply running slow enough in the inside lane. Dibaba seems to be a bit reluctant to take the lead but eventually does so. The pace look slow as the runners complete the first lap, and Uceny makes a good tactical move from 300-500 as she runs a wider curve to pass the group and settles in the front position in the green queue, the ideal place for a favorite. Kipyegon and Dibaba then accelerate the pace from 600-700, which makes it hard for anyone else to move up from the back of the field.
Already at 800m the surge has clearly begun. In fact the third lap goes very fast, in 1.01. At this pace the runners don’t really have to think about tactics at all. However, it’s important, especially for favorites, to remember that six runners qualify for the next round. Some runners close to the front are bound to get more tired than the favorites themselves. A favorite does not need to be in a hurry when the surge is long and fast.
Pre-race favorite Kostetskaya takes on some unnecessary distance in the 1100-1200 curve by running outside of Uceny. Kostetskaya does not seem to realize that she is seventh, so she only has to pass one opponent in the sprint to qualify.
Dibaba pays the price for leading the race when she fades in the sprint. If her strategy was to lead and make a long surge, it failed badly. Kipyegon, who shared pacemaking duties with Dibaba, also gets beaten in the sprint. The sprint doesn’t contain any tactics this time, but it’s good to note how far from the front some qualifiers were with one lap to go. Bulut, Belete, Kaireva, Uceny, Kostetskaya were in positions 3-7, respectively, and Weightman was 9th. Sifuentes and Buckman, who qualified by time, were 11th and 12th. Buckman was probably 12 meters behind the leader Kipyegon at 1100m. So runners at the back of the field in a fast race should not give up hope. Qualification can be much closer than it seems.