Men’s Olympic 800m Preview
As it seemed coming into the Olympics, the men’s 800m continues to look wide open as we approach the final in Tokyo on Wednesday night. Can anyone emulate 19-year-old US star and women’s champion Athing Mu and take command of the race? We’re about to find out.
As so often happens in this realm, the semi-finals claimed their share of high-profile casualties, the big one appearing to being Nijel Amos of Botswana, the gold medal favorite, who was tripped and initially ousted from the final, only to be re-instated upon appeal given he was not at fault for the incident.
That means we’ll see a rare nine-man final to decide the three medals. Among the leading contenders to fall short were USA’s Bryce Hoppel, Kenya’s Michael Saruni and Britain’s Elliot Giles, all knocked out in the semi-finals. The favorite for the final appears to be Kenya’s Ferguson Rotich, who powered to victory in impressive style in his semi-final in 1:44.04.
US champion Clayton Murphy also looks a prime contender for a medal after finishing a close second in his semi-final behind Peter Bol, who set an Australian record of 1:44.11.
“I’m at the age where I know how to handle everything and I can process the fact that I’m an Olympic medalist, I’m one of the favorites,” Murphy said. “All these things excite me versus, like, ‘oh my god I have pressure.’”
Look out too for Poland’s Patryk Dobek. He won the first of three semi-finals and is an athlete with a big kick, especially if the pace is slow, given up until this year he was primarily a 400m hurdler. He beat Kenya’s Emmanuel Korir in his semi-final but Korir also looks capable of getting among the medals.
The unpredictable nature of the 800m was underlined at the U.S. Olympic Trials where world champion Donavan Brazier finished eighth and failed to make the team. The winner there, Murphy, claimed the Olympic bronze medal in 2016 at the age of 21 and, now 26, he has the experience, race craft and ample range of gears needed to get on the podium again.
The fastest in the world this year is Amos, whose undoubted brilliance is sometimes held back by poor tactics, and he has a habit of finding trouble in races as we saw in the semi-final. However, Amos is clearly at a level where he can contend for gold, nine years on from his breakout run at the 2012 Olympics in London, where he finished second in 1:41.73 behind the world record by David Rudisha.
The pace in championship finals is usually steady, so we’ll likely see a first lap of 52 seconds or slower before everyone shuffles for position as the wheels truly start to turn. From there it’ll be about who has conserved the most energy and who can navigate the safest path towards the front before the final test of speed and strength around the final turn and into the home stretch.
Men’s Olympic 800m
Date: August 4 — Final
Time: 9:30 p.m. local time / 8:00 a.m. EDT