Propelled by a perfectly-timed homestretch kick, Ugandan athlete Halimah Nakaayi pulled off an upset victory in the 800m, thus far the biggest surprise of the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019.
Uganda never had a World Championships finalist in the women’s 800m. Tonight they had two and Nakaayi was the lesser known of the pair, but she didn’t play the part at what has been the most energized session of these championships at Khalifa Stadium.
Pre-race favourite Ajee Wilson took command after the break, with Jamaican Natoya Goule closely in tow. About 250 metres into the race Nakaayi tucked in behind the pair and lodged herself comfortably.
Wilson kept the pace fast and forged on, passing the bell in 57.94, maintaining her lead down the back straight. But Nakaayi kept the pressure on, shadowing the American through the bend, seemingly waiting for the opportunity to pounce. Wilson began to labour at the top of the home straight, giving Nakaayi an opening. She took it with about 30 metres to go, chugged by and held on to reach the line in 1:58.04, a national record.
On the outside, Raevyn Rogers blew by the field to finish second in 1:58.18, while Ajee held on for third to secure a 1-2 finish for the US. She clocked 1:58.84
“I was feeling so good, I knew something special was going to happen tonight,” said Nakaayi, whose only previous big meet medal came at the All Africa Games in August, where she took bronze. “So I just kept pushing and pushing. I was feeling strong and in the end I got it.”
Rogers, a three-time NCAA champion and now 23, signaled solid late season form with a runner-up finish at the Diamond League final in Brussels. She was pleased to carry some of that momentum to Doha.
“Silver means a lot to me,” she said. “It’s been a hard year with lots of ups and downs mentally and in other ways so this is a great way to end.”
I’ve got to feel good,” said Wilson, who raced to silver at the last two editions of the World Indoor Championships and bronze in London two years ago. “I wanted to win of course and went off hard, but in the last part of the race I saw it was hard. At least I got a medal.”
Winnie Nanyondo, the second Ugandan, was fourth in 1:59.18. A few minutes later she joined her teammate for a celebratory dance in front of a swarming pool of photographers. She returns to action on Wednesday in the heats of the 1500m, arguably her stronger event.
Further back, former world champion Eunice Sum was fifth in 1:59.71 with Goule sixth clocking 2:00.11.