2011 World Track and Field Championships Preview: Women's 800m

Red Shannon@@rojosportsFeatured ColumnistAugust 22, 2011

Caster Semenya—is she an injured cheetah, a de-clawed lioness or a shrewd fox?

Whatever the true identity of the defending 800m world champion, the mystery of not knowing for sure makes this preview both interesting and difficult.

Semenya, who demolished the field in the finals of the 2009 World Championships in Berlin (1:55.45), is the obvious X-factor among the handful of favorites at the 2011 World Championships next weekend in Daegu, South Korea.

Without once again dredging up the gory details of the Semenya Saga, suffice it to say her title defense has been a long-awaited showdown and should be one of the major viewing draws in Daegu.

The single-most contributing factor in the difficulty of calling this race is Semenya's sub-par 2011 season leading up to the Worlds. She has won only three of eight races away from her home soil of South Africa, her best time being 1:58.61—14th best in the world.

Normally, a champion athlete having a bad year might easily be relegated to long-shot status—except three possible alternate conditions may exist in Semenya's case:

She is injured. Semenya pulled out of this month's World Student Games with lower back problems.

Caster Semenya
Caster Semenya

She has been declawed. The mandatory hormone treatments are having their desired effect, making training and competition more physically demanding. Semenya simply hasn't made a complete adjustment.

She is sly like a fox. Some speculation has been floating around that Semenya has been deliberately tanking races in the dual hope of quelling further controversy, then catching her rivals with their guard down.

It really adds an element of intrigue to the women's 800m, doesn't it?

Here are my favorites:

Mariya Savinova, 26, Russia

The 2011 world top-20 times reads like a program from the Bolshoi Ballet. Eight Russians, including the top five, populate that list, but only Savinova makes my list. She is a proven winner, and this year has the world's fastest (and personal best) time of 1:56.95.

I saw her win at the 2010 Prefontaine Classic and have since been impressed with her tactical savvy.

Jenny Meadows, 30, Great Britain

Mariya Savinova
Mariya Savinova

Another great tactician who finished third in Berlin 2009. Added motivation is the need to make a statement prior to what is likely to be her last chance at an Olympic medal in London 2012.

Kenia Sinclair, 31, Jamaica

The 2011 Prefontaine winner, Sinclair is recovering well from a calf injury.

Janeth Jepkosgei, 27, Kenya

The 2007 world champion and silver medalist in Berlin 2009 has been having trouble winning outside Africa in 2011.

Long shots:

Caster Semenya, 20, South Africa

 I'm of the opinion Semenya is a de-clawed lioness. The artificial field-leveling was a sad, faulty, but necessary action.

Alice Schmidt, 29, USA

 2011 season littered with Top 3 finishes.

Maggie Vessey, 29, USA

 She's due...?

Svetlana Usovich, 30, Belarus

 Best results have come indoors but she can run with the big dogs.

Admittedly, Semenya got the bulk of ink in this preview. No apologies. Until race time, she is a central figure.

It's almost a catch-22 situation for her. Anything less than a podium finish will be a devastating blow to her comeback, and a win will surely guarantee a fresh round of controversy.

We shall see.

Red's next preview: Men's 110m hurdles

Red's previous previews:

Women's pole vault


 2011 World Track and Field Championships
When: August 27 - September 4, 2011
Where: Daegu, South Korea
Coverage (Online and TV): details here.

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