This analysis is based on my guidebook to 1500m tactics, available here on thcson.com. This race, the women’s second 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: Aregawi, Obiri, Tomashova
Average contestants: Simpson, Jamal, Hilali, Weightman, Bulut, Sifuentes
Underdogs: Buckman, Kareiva, Klocova
The fastest race in these Olympics: 400m 1.05,58 and 800m 2.10,93.
Athletes from the middle of the starting lineup move to the inside lanes very early, which clogs the inside lanes. Hilali, who started slower than the others from position 5, actually decides to move around all the outside starters on the first straight. The move is perhaps a bit excessive from an energy standpoint, but she moves up very nicely to second position in the green queue. When many athletes crowd to the inside lanes after the start, other athletes who started slower can sometimes overtake the group effectively on the outside without running much extra distance.
For a while it looks as if nobody’s very keen to lead, but then Tomashova breaks forward just after 200m. Knowing that she led most of the way in her heat, the other athletes can probably guess that Tomashova’s intention is to keep up a good pace. Bulut’s tactical reaction to Tomashova’s move is immediate. She moves up from a blue position at the back of the group to second position in the green queue well before the 300-400 curve. Her pre-race strategy may have been to latch on to Tomashova if she goes to the front again. She executes the move impressively.
Buckman is more timid and falls back on the 200-300 straight from the first position in the green queue. She gets a bit lucky as she finds a place in the inside lane. As an underdog Buckman was probably not keen on spending much time in the outside lanes. When many athletes simultaneously accelerate, the best tactic for an underdog stuck in the outside lanes can be to stay calm and move inside when a suitable gap opens.
Tomashova sets a blistering pace, well below season-bests for all the average contestants and underdogs in this race, so there’s not much tactics to speak of on their part. However, Hilali makes a tactical error when she moves out somewhere around the 650m point. Her position just before the move is excellent. She’s in blue position close to the front and the two athletes (Aregawi and Obiri) in green positions boxing her in are both pre-race favorites. Another favorite is leading the race and keeping up a fast pace. Under these circumstances it is very unlikely that Hilali could find herself in trouble before the sprint.
It’s not seen in the video, but apparently Hilali deliberately slows down, lets Jamal go past her on the outside, and then takes a green position behind Jamal. With two laps to go, in a fast race where at least five runners will qualify, there should be no reason to give up first place in the blue queue to run extra distance on the outside. In the end Hilali paid dearly for this decision.
The surge begins surprisingly early as Bulut takes the lead on the 800-900 straight. At the same time Hilali and Kareiva try to move past Jamal on the outside, and Hilali even moves up to Aregawi’s shoulder in the curve. These are surprisingly bold moves from average contestants and underdogs in a fast race. Kareiva in particular runs an excessively long distance in the 900-1000 curve when she’s unable to move inside. The underdogs and average contestants who remain in the inside lanes have clearly made a better tactical decision. In a race like this there should not be any urgency to move forward in the early stages of the surge if it costs extra energy.
The three favorites and Bulut pull away, followed by Hilali, Kareiva and Jamal, all of whom ran extra distance in the surge. Jamal and Kareiva surprisingly last all the way to the finish, and Kareiva in fact improves her personal best by four seconds despite her tactical mistakes. But Hilali runs out of steam in the final straight and fails to qualify. As so often in fast races, no tactical decisions are exhibited in the sprint.