© Copyright – 2023 – Athletics Illustrated

The women’s 800-metre may be a hair-splittingly close race on Sunday afternoon at Centennial Stadium. It wasn’t long ago that sub-2:00 was a big deal over the two-lap race. It still can be. There are at least six athletes who will toe the line that have run within 1.5 seconds of each other. The question after 1.5 laps, or 600m is, who can sprint or who has the aerobic base? The latter typically informs the former, but not always.

If the pace is tactical enough — slow, in their context — to that point, the born sprinter will challenge for the win. if the pace is hot throughout, the natural middle or long-distance runner will take the race. The 800m is unique because it is the only race distance where athletes deliberately attempt to run the first half faster than the second half — meaning it could get ugly down the home stretch.

Saying that there is a new generation (at least two, anyway) of athletes winning with negative splits. Athing Mu and Keely Hodgkinson, the global stars of the 800.

Currently, the world leaders in the event are Mu of the US, who is the reigning World Champion and Olympic gold medallist. Great Britain’s Keely Hodgkinson was the bridesmaid in both events, both age 19 in Tokyo. Kenyan Mary Moraa is right on their heels. Between the three of them, either can win on the right day. Hodgkinson crept up on Mu on the inside of Lane 1 in Eugene at the 2022 World Athletics Championships. One flinch by Mu and it would have been over. However, Mu held steady and prevailed. She is an enigma, she rarely races, shies away from the limelight, and wins. Mu is the favourite each time, but for how long?

Hodgkinson could hardly be called gregarious, but she is more media-present and races more often. During the Budapest World Athletics Championships, it will be fascinating to watch if she has gained any ground on the American. Or, what if Moraa will do something new, like win? A single season can make all the difference.

At 3:55 PM as the sun begins to slide behind the south end of the stadium, six women looking to run fast enough to make their national teams. They are targeting either the Pan American Games this October in Santiago, Chile or perhaps even the Budapest World Athletics Championships this August. They will want to get this race exactly right. The temperature, the wind and the tactics will all be of great concern for each of them as they stand waiting for the queue and the blast from the starting gun.

Top-seeded Marta Pen Freitas of Portugal has been right on the edge of the sub-2 benchmark with a personal best of 2:00.09 from 2018. Susan Aneno from Uganda earlier this year ran a 2:01.65 in L.A. Canadians to watch are Addy Townsend with a personal best from 2022 of 2:01.24 and a seasonal best of 2:02.40 last month in Vienna and Kate Current who specializes in the 1500 meters with a seed time of 2:02.58 is wanting to end her track career with a big new personal best.

Sometimes the seasonal goal is to get into the big European track meets, perhaps the Diamond League. For a burgeoning two-minute 800m runner, getting into a professional meet provides them with an opportunity to race their best, because the pace is often high. Outside of the Olympics and World Championships, the Diamond League is the target. One or two seconds may make all the difference in the world for all six of these athletes.

Three of Canada’s all-time greats have run very well at Centennial. Charmaine Crooks, Diane Cummins and Melissa Bishop-Nriagu, all national record holders, all sub-2, and all three have made Team Canada. Bishop-Nriagu holds the current national record at 1:57.01 and is a World Championships silver medallist.

The women’s 800m may be the most exciting race of the 2023 Victoria Track Classic Sunday and a prelude to the National Track and Field Championships in Langley.