This analysis is based on my guidebook to 1500m tactics, available here on thcson.com. This time I will analyze the men’s second semifinal in the London Olympics.
Race video on YouTube
Season bests (as reported in the start list) give the following classification for this heat:
Favorites: Chepseba, Kiplagat, Willis
Average contestants: Baddeley, Ozbilen, Ali, Iguider, Schlangen, Brannen, Centrowitz
Underdogs: Carvalho, Al-Garni, Nikolaev
Since the first semifinal had been won in 3.42 everyone in the second semifinal probably knew that seven athletes would qualify if the pace was even moderately fast. Unsurprisingly this semifinal was fast, 400m 56,03 and 800m 1.54,67.
Athletes from the middle of the lineup go out fastest. This leaves an unusual amount of open space in the middle of the group. Willis, for example, starts outside in position 12 but is able to move behind the lead group into lane 1 before the first curve. Ali deliberately takes the lead and the other fast starters are happy to settle in behind him.
Chepseba has decided to be the pacemaker and takes the lead at 300m. This is probably a good strategy considering how much he struggled in his heat with tactical errors and physical contact (he made it to the semifinal on appeal). Knowing that seven will qualify and with a season best 4-5 seconds faster than the average runner in this field, Chepseba plays it safe by leading.
Chepseba’s strategy makes the tactics very simple for the average runners and underdogs in this field: a favorite is leading and the pace is fast. The only thing to do is to hang on and minimize distance, preferably by running in lane 1.
As the jog ends at 1000m two underdogs and Brannen, who fell on the back straight, are already struggling to keep up the pace. The athletes in the front group may not know it yet, but with seven athletes set to qualify their task has already become easier. In any event, the pace remains so fast that everyone stays in their position, without giving much thought to tactics, I assume.
The sprint is an all-out race with nothing interesting from a tactical viewpoint, except perhaps for Baddeley and Özbilen. These two athletes are even with 150m to go and Baddeley has been on Özbilen’s heels for the past 200m. In the final curve they catch two runners whose strengths are fading fast: Al-Garni and Schlangen. Özbilen immediately moves outward and goes past them at full speed, but Baddeley slows down and runs 30m behind Schlangen’s back before realizing that he has to pass him immediately. But Baddeley slow reaction leaves him with a 10m gap to Özbilen, which he cannot close in the final straight. Following Özbilen immediately might have given Baddeley a shot at qualification.
It’s important to realize which runners are fading in the final curve and to move past them immediately. It is of course hard to make tactical decisions in a state of fatigue, but Baddeley could perhaps have observed how quickly Ali got past Schlangen and concluded that he and Özbilen would also have to move past him when they catch up.