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800m women: pacing strategies of the contenders


M Hanratty
30 Jul 2021

Raevyn Rogers, ranked number 10 in world coming into Tokyo 2020.

There’s been outstanding performances in the women’s 800m this season, but no outstanding single performer. Just 0.3 separates the top three coming into the competition (Athing Mu, Rose Almanza, Natoya Goule), with some real championship performers set to come into the mix. Tokyo is wide open.

Analysing some of the previous splits of the key contenders (who have all safely navigated the first round) we see how they tend to pace their races. Some are from championships, while others are from the Diamond League, but we’ve attempted to choose “representative” splits where several were available.

All selected performances are relatively fast (all under 1:59) and have been standardised into 200m segments to view the race in four distinct parts. From this, four broad categories have emerged: fast start/finishers, pacers, burners, and negative splitters.

Fast Starters/Finishers

All athletes in this analysis, whether championship or on the Diamond League circuit, have recorded their fastest split in the first 200m. All get out relatively hard relative to the rest of the race. Some finish fast too, with their fastest splits coming in the first and last 200m. Above are Raevyn Rogers and Athing Mu from the US Trials, and Nanyondo Nakaayi’s world championship winning performance in Doha 2019. Mu’s 28.49 is the fastest last 200m split in our analysis, while an unofficial negative split (faster second lap) was reported from the Michael Johnson Classic where she set her NCAA record. This may suggest that she is running conservatively when clocking a 1:56.07! Rogers strategy here is consistent with her splits in Doha—this seems to be the way she runs championship finals.

Pacers

This category captures multiple approaches from this set of athletes. They are united by the range of their splits (fastest v slowest) being small (Almanza is 1.6 seconds, Goule at 0.8, Joanna Jozwik at 2.2), as well as a small difference between the two laps. Jozwik in particular has a 0.6 difference between the first and second laps (these are her splits from Rio 2016). She is a consistent strong finisher when she is on top form.

Ajee Wilson has a larger range and doesn’t fit completely comfortably in this category. She seems to be able to run a variety of races (a “burner” at the US Trials, more of a “pacer” in Doha world championships). This shows her London 2017 world championships splits, which had the fastest third segment of all the splits we analysed.

Burners

David Rudisha popularised the “gun-to-tape” strategy of going out hard if you are the quality athlete of the championship race. Sometimes this results in “burners” where each 200m gets slower than the previous one. Half the men in the Rio 2016 final employed this tactic (all the medallists found something for the last 200m like our fast starters/finishes category). A lot of these splits are taken from the Diamond League so may represent what happens when you throw a pacemaker in to the mix. Nakaayi might demonstrate this best: a classic burner in the Diamond League but a fast starter/finisher when she took gold in Doha 2019.

Negative splitters

There is only one athlete here, Keely Hodgkinson. The Brit has two splits available from the Diamond League circuit and both were negative splits. This goes against the grain of the typical burner strategy in these events. It may suggest she’s got a faster time in her and could be a surprise medal contender if she gets it right. Of course, the final could be won in a negative split like it was in Rio, but we’ll be disappointed if the field don’t make it an honest race and take it out hard with the talent we have on display.

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