This analysis is based on my guidebook to 1500m tactics, available here on thcson.com. This race, the women’s first semifinal in the London Olympics, can be viewed on YouTube:
Race video on YouTube
Season bests (as reported in the start list) give the following classification for this heat:
Favorites: Kostetskaya, Uceny, Dobriskey, Alptekin
Average contestants: Harrer, Rowbury, Stellingwerff, McKnight, Van Dalen, England
Underdogs: Fernandez, Belete
Relatively fast: 400m 1.06,06 and 800m 2.15,32
The start is a bit unusual because the three inside starters Kostetskaya, Harrer and Uceny all start faster than the rest of the field. This allows Uceny to take first position in the green queue behind the leader, which normally would be difficult for a runner starting third from the inside. The rest of the field settles in as expected.
Kostetskaya clearly intends to take the lead in the start and she leads the jog with a fast pace. She’s the number two favorite in this race behind Alptekin and apparently comfortable running in front. Not many runners share this preference.
Kostetskaya’s pacemaking leaves all the other runners locked into their positions all the way from 200m to the end of the jog at 1000m. The only exception is Dobriskey. She uses the 600-700 straight to move up from last place in the red queue to third place in the green. This is a somewhat risky tactical move when the pace is fast. Although Dobriskey successfully passes many opponents on the straight, there isn’t enough room for her to properly move into the green queue before the curve (700-800). She ends up running this curve in the middle of lane 2.
On the back straight (800-900) Dobriskey still can’t find a position closer to the inside, so she takes on extra distance in the next curve (900-1000) as well. Kostetskaya has now slowed down considerably, which also works to Dobriskey’s disadvantage because it prevents her from finding any gaps inside. On the other hand it is also easier for Dobriskey to keep up in the curves when the pace is slower. She does maintain good striking position in the green queue, which might have been worth the extra distance after all.
The pace increases at the 1000m mark, but most runners are surprisingly passive on the straight (1000-1100). This might be because all four favorites are in front. They will probably not be easy to pass, so average contestants and underdogs may as well conserve their strength in the curve (1100-1200) before beginning the sprint. The race has also been fairly fast, which could make a move to the outside too costly.
Belete breaks the pattern with a sudden sprint outward just before 1100m. It might have been wiser for her to sprint earlier on the straight, because now she’s forced to run a wide curve. But she runs fast enough to pass everyone except Alptekin in the curve, so she achieves what she intended.
Rowbury’s response to Belete’s acceleration at 1080m is also worth noting. Rowbury was in the red queue in the first lap and then held a blue position to the end of the jog. At 1000m she’s in 9th place, inconveniently separated from the four favorites. However, when Belete jumps out Rowbury suddenly sees an opening and immediately accelerates. This quick reaction was essential to her success in the sprint in this race, because it allowed her to follow Uceny. If Harrer or McKnight had filled the gap instead, Rowbury would have had to work past them. She would probably not have qualified for the final. This illustrates why it’s so crucial to fill gaps quickly in the surge.
In the end Belete did not quite manage to keep her bold sprint going all the way to the finish. The sprint was a full-speed race where no contestants had to make tactical decisions.