NAIROBI, August 26 –Eunice Sum put her title defence on track after confidently strolling from the first round of the women 800m at Beijing World Championships on Wednesday.
Her mentor, 2007 Osaka champion, Janeth Jepkosgei and World Junior title holder, Margaret Wambui bowed out where 2009 winner, Caster Semenya of South Africa, looked ready for a major comeback.
The qualifying formula for the first round was the top three athletes in each heat plus the six next fastest times would go through to Thursday’s semi-finals.
In the second fastest heat, Sum eased home in 1:59.67 ahead of Ukraine’s Olha Lyakhova who ran her personal best of 1:59.92 while 1500m bronze medallist, Sifan Hassan of Netherlands rounded the top three in 1:59.94.
Jepkosgei’s hopes of returning to the final for the first time since the 2011 edition in Daegu where she bagged bronze, crashed after the Eldoret Express lacked the power to go through the first hurdle for the first time in four World Championships outings.
Competing in heat four, Jepkosgei failed to muster the finishing speed as she placed just outside the top three in 2:01.40 behind Polish Sofia Ennaoui (2:01.16), Rose Mary Almanza of Cuba (2:01.33) and Slovakian Lucia Klocová (2:01.35).
It was a slow round that did not produce the fastest losers ending her medal charge at the same stadium she ran to Olympics silver behind Pamela Jelimo in 2008.
“I’m not sad but I really liked to be in the semis. I was tripped almost at the end but I’m happy to be in Beijing which was my target.
“I think i didn’t run my best according to the time,”Jepkosgei, who failed to make team for Moscow in 2013 injured said after the race.
Wambui who was making her debut as a senior found the going tough after trailing heat six in 2:03.52 having been drafted to the team as a late addition less than a week before departure meaning she was well short of training.
The first heat was one for the history books and saw the 2015 Asian champion Tintu Lukka, from India, being aggressive right from the start, taking the pack through the first lap in a swift 57.06.
It left the athlete, who has yet to run a sub-2:00 race this season, struggling to stay on her feet with 200 metres to go, but kept the competition on a fast pace.
Last year’s European champion, from Belarus, Marina Arzamasova and Great Britain’s Lynsey Sharp were more conservative on the first lap, and broke away from the pack, finishing first and second in 1:58.69 and 1:58.98, respectively.
Arzamasova’s time is the fastest first-round time in the history of the World Championships.
Notably, Semenya, had a killer final spurt and finished third, closing from far behind with the South African clocking her fastest time since 2013, 1:59.59.
Reigning champion Sum, had a commanding showing in her opening race after leading from gun to the finish line in the second heat.
Hassan, coming off of a bronze medal performance in the 1500m on Tuesday, finished third in 1:59.94 and captured an automatic qualifying spot.
USA’s 2013 world championships bronze medallist, Brenda Martinez, almost condemned herself to hoping to qualify by time in the third heat.
Canada’s Fiona Benson and the Kiwi Angie Pettie, the leaders through two-thirds of the race, weren’t leaving Martinez any space for manoeuvre for her finishing spurt.
The miniature Moroccan Rababe Arafi, however, found a gap and broke away, finishing first with a personal best of 2:00.37. Martinez had to work hard but took third in a blanket finish in 2:00.54, 0.01 behind Benson.
Another team USA representative, experienced Alysia Montano, had an even worse luck.
She got tangled up in competitors’ legs on the second lap of here race, while in strong contention for a top-three finish. The American fell and was nowhere near the leaders after getting back up. The victory in this heat went to Germany’s Fabienne Kohlmann in 2:01.42.
Poland’s 19-year-old Sofia Ennaoui, in her first ever world championships appearance, demonstrated an enviable composure. The teenager ran away from a group of faster rivals on the home stretch.
Ennaoui won the race in 2:01.16, followed home in a tight finish by Cuba’s Rose Mary Almanza and Slovakia Lucia Klocova, which has the effect of edging Jepkosgei out of the three automatic qualifying spots and, eventually, the semi-final.
-Material from IAAF used to compile this report