By Mark Etheridge
Crashing to the ground at the line, South Africa’s Caster Semenya came close to gatecrashing one of the greatest women’s 1500-metre finals at the IAAF World Championships in London on Monday.
Semenya clocked 4min 02.90sec to snatch the bronze medal from the host nation’s Laura Muir by 0.07sec at the Olympic Stadium.
The race was won by Kenyan and Olympic 1500m champion Faith Kipyegon in 4:02.59 from America’s Jenny Simpson who ran a superbly judged race to snatch second in a frenetic finish.
One of the highest quality fields ever assembled lined up for the final track event of day four of the championships and it was Britain’s Muir who took the field through 400min 1:05.35.
The pace then slowed drastically and 800m went by in 2:17.13.
But things soon exploded into action at around the 1000m mark and the bell for the last lap came at 3:04.55.
Kipyegon and Netherlands Sifan Hassan, the world indoor champion burst to the front.
The two led into the final straight with Olympic 800m champion Semenya halfway back in the field. Hassan had no gas left in her tank inside the last 75m as Simpson moved past on the inside and it was Semenya who stormed down the outside to just dip past Muir on the line.
That finishing effort saw Semenya crash to the track as did Kipyegon a few metres before her, the latter in a mix of disbelief and delight.
Such was the chaotic last few hundred metres that 2015 world champion was left trailing in last position in a time of 4:06.72sec meaning that just 4.13sec separated the 12 finishers.
Semenya was just 0.06sec outside her season’s best, set earlier in the competition and she’s still threatening Zola Budd’s SA mark of 4:01.81 set 33 years ago in Port Elizabeth.
The bronze medal boosts South Africa’s tally to three at these championships to go with Luvo Manyonga and Ruswahl Samaai’s gold and bronze respectively in the long jump.
That puts SA up to fourth on the medals table behind the US (9), Kenya (5) and Ethiopia (also three but with a silver medal compared to SA’s one gold and two bronze).
That tally already equals their medal haul at the last championships just four days into the 10-day competition.
And with Semenya’s specialist 800m event still to come and Rio Olympics 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk still to go in the one-lap final and already into the 200m semi-finals, things are looking good for SA.
Picture of the dramatic finish to the 1500m courtesy of Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images