Only five women have dipped below 50 seconds in the 400m so far this season, three will be in Rio. Bahamian Shaunae Miller, Americans Allyson Felix and Phyllis Francis were expected to be involved in an epic showdown with the Jamaican trio Christine Day, Shericka Jackson and Stephenie-Ann McPherson until the surprise announcement. Caster Semenya’s decision to attempt the 400m/800m double in Rio has generated a lot of interest and sparked heated debates in track and field circles.
Not since Australian Tamsyn Manou (nee Lewis) at the 2008 Beijing Olympics where she failed to make either final has a woman tried this arduous feat. Semenya is on the verge of history and although she represents a clear and present danger, based on the pedigree of opponents, may get a baptism of fire in the women’s 400m in Rio.
For obvious reasons this clash will be one of the most highly anticipated events in Rio. It should provide answers and yet raise more questions. The 400m can be physically demanding on the body. It requires proper execution, pain tolerance, speed endurance and even when done correctly can leave an athlete on wobbly legs, out of breath or collapsing from sheer exhaustion.
The 400m will come first in the schedule which may work against Semenya as she will need to extend herself a lot more through the rounds in the one-lap event than she would in the 800m. She has a 400m PB of 50.74 and will suit up against quarter-milers who will not allow her an easy passage. Semenya might be pushed to the limit in the gruelling rounds where she is required to run a few PB’s to get to the final. Based on her form chart this season she seems on track to do wonders.
For American great Allyson Felix, it represents possibly the last time the world will see her at an Olympic Games. This is her fourth appearance. The 2015 400m world champion will not defend her 2012 Olympic 200m title as she narrowly missed out at the US trials. That result has left her focusing on one individual event, the 400m, incidentally a discipline she has never done at an Olympic games. It is her first and last attempt. She will want to leave as a champion.
Former 400m world youth and junior champion Shaunae Miller has been almost unstoppable this season. So far she has registered personal bests in the 100m (11.19), 200m (22.05) and 400m (49.55) which suggests that things will not be normal in Rio. Her confidence is at an all-time high, she’s injury free and more importantly has been undefeated all season destroying quality opposition in the process. Many persons feel the 22-year old has paid her dues and it’s now her time to shine.
If all goes according to script in Rio, and with the unbelievable amount of horse power assembled in the final, an epic showdown is likely where everything will be left on the track. Semenya is obviously strong mentally and physically. Now she will need to pass the speed test. It is left to be seen if Semenya will have any mileage left in her legs for her pet event (800m) if she receives a comprehensive beating by the quarter-milers. The South African will have a 24-hour recovery period between the 400m final and the heats of the 800m.
The stakes are extremely high on this one. Already pundits are guessing sub 49 seconds for victory, a rare sight these days. The greatest thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time. In the meantime, we ponder (privately and otherwise) if Caster Semenya will triumph in Rio or get trounced? It makes for fascinating viewing. Now we wait.