DAEGU, South Korea, September 1 – Defending champion Caster Semenya safely negotiated her way into the semis of the women’s 800m at the world championships on day six while injury-hit high-jumper Blanka Vlasic also advanced.
Semenya, cleared to compete as a woman in July 2010, nearly a year after she shot to prominence at the Berlin worlds, denied she felt pressure to perform after a poor season in which she has failed to break the 2min barrier.
The 20-year-old South African finished second in her heat in 2:01.01 behind reigning world indoor and European champion Mariya Savinova, qualifying joint fifth quickest overall for Friday’s semi-final.
“I’m not under pressure. I want to go back and focus again,” Semenya told AFP after her heat.
When asked about her right knee, which she felt after her race, before walking and stretching, she said: “It’s not a problem. I’ll fix it and get ready and focus for the next race.”
Two-time defending champion Vlasic sustained a serious injury to her take-off leg in training shortly before the worlds.
But the 27-year-old Croat, who has successively taken the Berlin 2009 world, Doha 2010 world indoor and Barcelona 2010 European titles, seemed to have few problems in sweltering conditions at Daegu stadium,
Vlasic jumped four times and each time sailed over the bar, her final effort clearing the qualifying mark of 1.95m to set her up to go for an unprecedented third world title, although Russian Anna Chicherova will be a tough competitor to beat.
“I still suffer from my injury and I am worried about how it will be in the final. I will jump through the pain,” Vlasic said.
A third defending champion meant to be on show in the morning session was Kenenisa Bekele, but the Ethiopian running legend was a no-show in heats for the men’s 5000m.
It brings Bekele’s South Korean adventure to a sad end after he limped out of Sunday’s 10,000m, in which he was also defending champion.
The absence of Bekele has paved the way to the podium for American Bernard Lagat and Briton Mo Farah, although the usual string of Kenyan and Ethiopian runners will debate that.
Lagat, the 2009 5000m silver medallist and 2007 champion at 1500 and 5000m, topped heat times with 13min 33.90sec.
“I didn’t use up too much energy. I have two more rest days, I’ll rest up really well, hydrate and Sunday will be fine,” said Lagat, a three-time Olympian – for Kenya in 2000 and 2004 and the United States in 2008.
Farah, who finished seventh in the Berlin final and who was tipped by Lagat earlier in the week as the man to beat in the 5000m, also looked comfortable in his race, finishing second on the line behind Ethiopian Imane Merga.
Farah’s double ambitions were undone when he could only claim silver in the men’s 10,000m on Sunday, with the reigning world cross-country champion Merga taking bronze.
American Allyson Felix was also back on the track in a bid to bag an unprecedented fourth women’s world 200m title.
After missing out on a double when she could only claim silver in the 400m, she progressed to the 200m semi-finals later Thursday along with American 100m gold medallist Carmelita Jeter and Jamaica’s Olympic champion Veronica Campbell-Brown.
“I’m feeling okay. I just wanted to get through these rounds easy and have something left for the final. I’m just trying to get my legs moving around,” said Felix.
Double amputee Oscar Pistorius was also in action Thursday, running the first leg of the 4x400m relay for South Africa, his team qualifying for the final on Friday while the fancied Bahamas team missed out.
But there was not such good news for Pistorius’ teammate Godfrey Mokoena, the 2009 world silver medallist, missing the cut for the long jump final.