Kate Grace

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South Africa’s Semenya takes women’s 800 gold, USA’s Grace 8th

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After missing out on an Olympic gold medal in the women’s 800 four years ago, South African Caster Semenya arrived in Rio intent on making sure that wasn’t the case this time around.

Semenya did just that, grabbing control of the race over the final 200 meters to win in comfortable fashion. Semenya finished in 1:55.28, more than a full second better than silver medalist Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi (1:56.49). While Semenya was well off the World and Olympic records, she did set a new national record in the 800, and she is South Africa’s second female track and field gold medalist with the first coming in 1952 (Esther Brand, long jump).

Niyonsaba is Burundi’s first female track and field medalist. Taking bronze was Margaret Wambui of Kenya, who finished in 1:56.89.

American Kate Grace, the national champion in the 800, finished eighth in 1:59.57. The U.S. hasn’t won a medal in the woman’s 800 since 1988, when Kim Gallagher took bronze (Gallagher also took silver in the event in 1984).

Team USA’s Blankenship, Centrowitz advance to men’s 1500m final

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The men’s 1500 meter and women’s 800 meter races narrowed their fields down to 12 and eight competitors respectively Thursday night, with semifinal heats being run in both events. A total of three Americans advanced to the finals in those events, with two others failing to do so.

In the men’s 1500 Ben Blankenship and Matthew Centrowicz sealed their spots in the final, with Blankenship finishing fourth in his heat and Centrowicz third in his. However Robby Andrews was not as fortunate, as he was disqualified for having stepped off the track during his semifinal heat. Kenya’s Asbel Kiprop posted the fastest time, finishing in 3:39.73, and two of the three medalists from London advanced as well.

Reigning Olympic champion Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria finished in 3:39.88, and 2012 bronze medalist Abdalaati Iguider of Morocco was one of two competitors to advance on time as he finished in 3:40.11. Canada’s Nathan Brannen was the other to qualify based on time, as he finished in 3:40.20. The final of the 1500 is scheduled for Saturday night.

In the women’s 800 only one of the two Americans in the semifinals managed to advance. Kate Grace, the daughter of 1980’s fitness icon Kathy Smith, qualified for the final with a time of 1:58.79. However Ajee Wilson wasn’t as fortunate, as her time of 1:59.75 wasn’t good enough to go through to the eight-runner final. The final of the women’s 800 is scheduled for Saturday night shortly after the conclusion of the men’s 1500.

After Trials chaos, it’s Caster; U.S. 800m Olympians get no break in Rio


EUGENE, Ore. — Chrishuna Williams has never raced against Caster Semenya, but she has watched video of the dominant South African this year.

“I notice how her first lap, she like sits behind,” Williams said after finishing third in the turbulent U.S. Olympic Trials 800m final, earning a Rio berth on Monday. “Then her last lap, she just takes off. … That’s something I’ve never seen.”

Williams, a 23-year-old who shifted from the 400m to the 800m in 2015, is one of three U.S. women, and everyone else, who are overwhelming underdogs behind Semenya in the two-lap race in Rio.

Williams ran a personal-best 1:59.59 in Monday’s final at Hayward Field, getting on the three-woman team for Rio by .04 of a second over Molly Ludlow.

Winner Kate Grace also had a personal best, 1:59.10, after not racing on the track in 2015 due to tearing a toe-joint tendon. Grace had never made the podium at an NCAA or U.S. Championships and didn’t decide to run the 800m (in addition to the 1500m) at Trials until two or three weeks ago.

Ajee’ Wilson, the fastest woman in the world in 2014, was second to Grace in 1:59.51. Wilson, who turned professional after high school in 2013, grabbed third place at the 2015 U.S. Championships while running with one shoe on. She withdrew from the world championships team six weeks later due to a stress reaction in her left tibia.

The unlikely trio of Grace, Wilson and Williams emerged Monday from a chaotic last 200 meters that doused the hopes of six-time U.S. champion Alysia Montaño and Brenda Martinez, the only U.S. woman to earn an Olympic or world 800m medal since 1988.

The 800 meters is the shortest track event where runners (sprinters from the gun, in the case of some) are not separated by lanes for the entire race.

“There’s going to be casualties,” Wilson said. “It sucks when it’s you.”

Track and Field Trials: Daily Schedule | TV Schedule

Yet few expect Semenya to draw that kind of misfortune in Rio.

Semenya, best known for a gender-testing scandal after winning the 2009 World title at age 18, re-emerged this year with her fastest times in five years. The sudden revival came after a July decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport that suspended for two years a 2011 IAAF ruling that regulated women’s testosterone levels for competition eligibility.

Semenya, who was kept out of competition by the IAAF for 11 months in 2009 and 2010 while undergoing gender tests, has performed well at various times before the 2011 ruling, during the regulation period (2012 Olympic silver medal) and now without the regulation.

While the Americans ran in the 1:59s on Monday (and no faster earlier this year), Semenya has clocked no slower than 1:58.26 at her last four meets. Semenya is undefeated in 10 800m races this year and, in the higher-profile ones, has appeared to win comfortably without requiring full effort.

As Williams hinted, Semenya hangs back for the first lap (the first 700 meters, really) and shows her cards for, at most, the final 100 meters. In Doha. In Rabat. In Rome.

The world record of 1:53.28, set by Czech Jarmila Kratochvílová in 1983, is talked about as under threat. Semenya has also clocked personal bests in the 400m and 1500m this year, though they aren’t quite medal-caliber times. Her coach said in May there was no plan to add a second individual event in Rio.

Of Grace, Wilson and Williams, only Wilson has raced against Semenya. Wilson finished higher than Semenya in their first three races — all during Semenya’s down years in 2013 and 2014 — and then was dusted by the South African in Rome on June 2.

“I don’t really remember much of it,” said Wilson, who ran 2:03.33 (her worst international time as a pro) to Semenya’s 1:56.64 and was the last finisher of 11. “I was kind of off my game myself. It was kind of like, I was watching the race from second-hand anyway.”

The philosophy against Semenya is the same against anybody. Run to win, Wilson said.

“If I need to be in 1:56, 1:57 shape, then that’s what we’re going to do,” Wilson (personal-best 1:57.67 from 2014) said, pausing before adding, “regardless of who’s in the race.”

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