Caster Semenya could pull off a surprise if her 1,500m rivals favour strategy over all-out speed
London — Caster Semenya sails into uncharted waters in the women’s 1,500m in London on Monday‚ going up against nine rivals who are faster than her over this distance.
When it comes to the mile, she lacks the pedigree she possesses in her specialist 800m event‚ where she is on an unbeaten streak of 26 races dating back to late 2015.
As a senior athlete she has competed over 1,500m on 21 occasions since 2009‚ with 13 wins.
But here’s the kicker — she’s never had a triumph outside Africa‚ having competed in Europe on just three occasions‚ two of them these past few days in the heats and semifinals.
Up against her is 1,500m Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon of Kenya‚ whose 3min 56.41 personal best is more than five seconds better than Semenya’s 4min 01.99 career best.
Defending champion and world record holder Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia appears to be a tad out of sorts‚ but there’ll also be strong challenges from Dutch flyer Sifan Hassan as well as Laura Muir‚ who will be buoyed by the home crowd.
By comparison the best of Semenya’s competitors are royalty in the mile.
Kipyegon has done 22 1,500m races over the past three seasons alone‚ with just one finish outside the top three.
Dibaba has completed 15 during this period‚ only once ending outside the top three; Hassan has 33 under her belt with just one result short of the top three; and Muir is on 29 with four outside the top three.
It’s no surprise Semenya’s sceptics think she will do well to make the podium‚ let alone take the gold.
Semenya believes her rivals will try to attack from early on. "I can see what they’re trying to do‚ they’re trying to stretch us‚" she said after the semifinals.
But the statistics suggest Monday night’s showdown will be a tactical affair. You have to go back 10 years to find a world championship final where the winner went faster than Semenya’s personal best.
And if the frontrunners start playing chess instead of stretching their legs‚ they could give Semenya an advantage.
Wayde van Niekerk‚ after qualifying for the men’s 400m final on Tuesday night‚ begins his assault on the 200m in the heats on Monday night.
He is the first up of the three South Africans scheduled to compete‚ going in lane seven of the third heat.
On paper‚ Van Niekerk’s biggest competition will come from Alonso Edward of Panama‚ who ended fourth at the last world championships in Beijing‚ being pipped by another South African‚ Anaso Jobodwana.
But Edwards has been unimpressive this season.
The likelihood is that the South African should advance to Wednesday’s semifinals without having to spend too much energy ahead of the 400m final.
If Simbine has recovered from the hip impingement that dogged him during the 100m‚ he will have a tougher time of it in the sixth heat‚ going up against American Isiah Young and Zharnel Hughes of Britain.
Matric pupil Clarence Munyai is also primed to advance to the semifinals in the seventh race‚ his strongest rival being Briton Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake.
The first three in each heat qualify automatically for the next round.
Also looking to advance to the semifinals is 400m hurdler Wenda Nel‚ who made the final at the last world championships two years ago.