In Stuart Weir’s column on April 6, 2020, Five Unmissable events, Stuart wrote about how much he loved the women’s 800 meter events in Monaco in 2017 and 2018. Stuart did the following column on why he loved the events…
2017 Monaco DL women’s 800 meters: Caster Semenya (RSA) set a Diamond League Record, World Lead and Meeting Record of 1:55.27 in the Women’s 800m at the 2017 Herculis EBS in Monaco, photo by Philip Fitte for IAAF (copyright held by Philip Fitte).
Caster Semenya (RSA) set a Meeting Record of 1:54.60 in the Women’s 800m at the 2018 Herculis meeting in Monaco, photo by Philippe Fitte for IAAF (copyright held by Philippe Fitte)
Women’s 800s in Monaco
The women’s 800 meters race at the 2017 and 2018 Herculis meet in Monaco were probably the most exciting races I have ever seen. Starting with the 2017 race, OK the favorite, Caster Semanya won but only by 0.2 of a second from Francine Niyonsaba. Now on more than one occasion I have heard Niyonsaba say that she thought Semanya was beatable. As three women battled down the home straight, it was far from certain that Semanya would win.
Let’s note a number of things about the race:
- Semanya ran a World Lead for 2017, a Meeting Record and a Diamond League Record of 1:55.27 but she only won by 0.2 of a second.
- There were three women under 1.56
- Francine Niyonsaba ran a national (Burundi) record.
- Ajee Wilson ran a US record of 1.55.61
- Sifan Hassan (Netherlands) ran a PB of 1:56.81 for 4th,
- Melissa Bishop ran a Canadian record of 1.57.01 and was 5th.
- The top seven were under 1:58.50.
Semanya said afterwards: “I showed my strength but it was a hard fight until the end. The girls surprised me how good they ran. I made some small technical problems which slowed me down. I knew I should not allow Niyonsaba to take the lead. I think I can run really fast. That is what we are training for”.
Ajee Wilson was ecstatic afterwards, saying: “US Record? Waouh! I hadn’t seen that coming. It felt so good to be competitive again”.
Then in 2018 the race was arguably even better
- In 2017 Semanya won with World, a Meeting Record and a Diamond League Record of 1:55.27. In 2018 she won in 1:54.60
- In 2017 the top seven were under 1:58.50. In 2018 the top eight!
- Four of the top seven ran PRs
- Spare a thought for Margaret Wambui who ran 1:59.70 finished 11th!
After the 2018 race Semanya said, “It was just fantastic, only the last 100m was a little off for me. It was long month of racing for me now I need to rest. I feel that on my body. I like to run on my own without a pacemaker from the beginning. I want to keep my running, today wanted to break 1.54 but maybe next time. I want to be consistent at this level. I was not thinking about the world record today and actually it is not on my mind”.
Months later I asked Caster to reflect on those races. She told me: “Any time I run in Monaco or on a fast track, my thoughts are on improving my time. It is all about me wanting to run better. When I approach my races, I don’t think a lot. It is all about running the right pace and the right rhythm and the time will come. But I always want to run well when the track is good”.
I also wondered if she had felt in danger of losing: “For me running is about feeling the body”, she told me. “Of course it is possible to lose but it is hard for someone to lose in the last 100m if they have a little bit of speed, especially in their speciality event. So it is not about me losing but about me focusing on my racing to the finish. It was a difficult race because they were digging hard but I had the advantage because I was already in front and had a chance to win the race but it was fantastic”.
Natoya Goule ran 1:56.15 for third place in 2018 – and a Jamaican record. She told me: “I cried after that race. I knew I had run fast perhaps 1.57, but I didn’t know it was 1.56. When they showed it to me I lay down the ground and started crying”. Goule has theories about why Monaco produces such good times: “In Monaco they take you to the call room and don’t bring you on the track until you are about to run. I also like the longer curve and the short straight as I perform better on the longer curve. I really don’t like a long straight. The whole atmosphere is in Monaco is really, really nice – being able to see the hills. Also the track is fast. I think that all contributes”.
Whatever it is Monaco produces phenomenal races and I feel privileged to have seen these two.
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