Burundi’s defending champion Francine Niyonsaba set a world-leading 1:58.31 to take the 800m title following a titanic tussle with the USA’s 2016 silver medallist Ajee’ Wilson on the final day of the IAAF World Indoor Championships Birmingham 2018.
It was a middle-distance race that contrasted sharply with the pedestrian pace of the men’s 3000m and 1500m, as Wilson adopted a front-running tactic that so nearly worked.
Wilson led from the break and clocked a swift 59.02 for the first 400 metres, twice accelerating hard to prevent Niyonsaba from hitting the front.
But in the final reckoning, the Olympic silver medallist had too much, sweeping into the lead at the bell and powering to victory.
Wilson had to settle for silver again, her natural disappointment tempered by a PB, 1:58.99.
Great Britain’s Shelayna Oskan-Clarke ran clear of Ethiopia’s Habitam Alemu (fourth in 2:01.10) in the final 40 metres to take the bronze in 1:59.81, with all three medallists recording personal bests.
Niyonsaba, coached at the Oregon Track Club by Britain’s 1988 Olympic steeplechase bronze medallist Mark Rowland, dedicated her triumph to her country. “I did it for God and for my country,” she said. “I want to be an inspiration for the youth and children in Burundi.
“I did all I was supposed to do to defend this title, despite the fact it was not easy. I knew Ajee was well prepared and expected her to start like she did. It was hard to win but I felt good to push it in the finish.”
Not since the days of the Maria Mutola has there been a successful title defence in the women’s 800m at the IAAF World Indoor Championships.
The mighty Mozambican made five successful defences en route to her record collection of seven individual world indoor golds, which she accomplished across two separate streaks (split by her defeat to the Czech Ludmila Formanova in Maebashi in 1999) from 1993 to 2006.