Beijing 2015: 800m Men semifinals

Here’s a tactical recap of today’s 800m semifinals.

Race videos

Semifinal 1

Semifinal 2

Semifinal 3


Semifinal 1

The outside starters find positions on the outside of the group as expected. No time for tactical positioning in such a fast start. Inside starter Murphy ends up in lane 1 behind both favorites Ksczczot and Aman, which has to be a good place for an underdog. He still rushes to an outside position at the 300m mark. This is clearly a mistake, not only because he disrupts his own rhythm when moving out, but because he sets himself an impossible task. There’s no way that he will be able to out-sprint the likes of Ksczczot, Aman and Bosse after taking on more distance than them in a fast race.

Kupers makes the sprint interesting by accelerating the 500m point. When Ksczczot responds strongly, the other runners behind them are clearly at risk of being stuck behind the underdog Kupers as Ksczczot escapes. Aman does everything right thing by keeping the gap to Ksczczot as short as it can be. Yet by sticking his shoulder into the gap that Aman was protecting, Kupers still manages to move in front of Aman and leave him boxed. After tussling with Kupers Aman just narrowly manages to move past him in the curve and sprint effectively to the finish, but he gets disqualified.

It is difficult to see what Aman could have done differently. He doesn’t have a free route outward at any point on the back straight. The race illustrates how difficult to keep gaps closed and prevent lateral movement at high speeds. Gaps naturally become longer when everyone lengthens their stride, which makes sideways movement easier.

Semifinal 2

This was an interesting tactical race. Rudisha wants to take the lead in the start and the other athletes compete for the spot behind him. Al-Deraan does a nice tactical job on the inside as he keeps an eye on everyone to his right and accelerates enough to keep Amos behind him and move in behind Rudisha.

So Al-Deraan is in excellent position after the start, but he runs a bit lazily at the 400m mark and leaves a bigger gap to the leader than he should have. Balla moves into this like Kupers did in the previous heat, only the pace is much slower now so Al-Deraan should have been able to close the gap more effectively. Balla keeps his position behind Rudisha all the way to the finish line and qualifies for the final, so moving in behind the favorite was clearly a good tactic.

It’s interesting to see what happens on the outside in the sprint. The race has been slow, so everyone should know how important it is not to lose positions in the first sprint on the 500-600 straight. Yet Tolokonnikov easily both Gakeme and Amos without any resistance. This is clearly where Amos loses the race. He should have moved outward and accelerated when he saw Tolokonnikov coming up to his shoulder.

Amos gets a second chance because Tolokonnikov immediately makes the same mistake that Amos made a few seconds before! Despite clearly having much energy left Tolokonnikov inexplicably allows Amos overtake him in the bend without resisting or moving outward at all. Amos makes the most of the chance that Tolokonnikov grants him, but it isn’t enough. He wasted too much energy when he forced to overtake Tolokonnikov in the bend.

The reason why both Tolokonnikov and Amos seem to reluctant to accelerate appears to be that they overtake each other before Rudisha has actually started sprinting in earnest, so the pace set by the leaders isn’t close to full speed. But neither Tolokonnikov nor Amos should have been reluctant to start their full-speed sprint immediately when their position in the green queue was threatened.

Semifinal 3

This race was the least tactical of the three semifinals. Lewandowski decides to move out and overtake one opponent just before the 400m point, and it’s probably a good tactical decision considering how many underdogs or average contestants were lined up in front of him. He performs a good sprint and came very close to qualifying for the final as one of the two fastest losers.

Tuka’s sprint was effective again. He has openly declared that he does not bother much with strategy and tactics since, he just sprints from the back. In the final the best strategy for athletes like Ksczczot and Rudisha against Tuka would probably be to keep the pace relatively slow. In the final Tuka it will be harder for Tuka to overtake others on the back straight than in the semifinal, so the odds are that he will get stuck behind someone in the final bend. This would allow Ksczczot and Rudisha to escape so far that Tuka can’t catch them before the finish. If the pace is fast it becomes easier for Tuka to improve his position gradually throughout the second lap. He has shown that he can sprint very effectively even when the pace is fast.


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