The Women’s 800 meters is going to be an intriguing event in Budapest. Mary Moraa is focused on Keely Hodgkinson and Athing Mu, but Coach Bobby Kersee has thrown some uncertainty in the mix, now not saying whether Athing Mu will show or not and perhaps just train for Paris 2024.
Mary Moraa rises above the ashes to pose a threat to Athing Mu and Keely Hodgkinson in Budapest.
What a difference two years can make in sports! As humans, we always tend to fix our minds on the moment, and we tend not to give credence to how other athletes are grinding it out to find their way to the top. In reality, one can’t blame the fans as they fork out their hard-earned money to watch the very best in real-time. The best an athlete can do is to work their way to the top and ensure they are the reason fans turn up at the stadium.
That’s the world we live in now; we just have to follow the rules. It’s why very few people paid attention to Mary Moraa two years ago. The Kenyan runner barely made it to the Tokyo Olympics, and even then, she barely made up the numbers as she placed third in her semi-final with a modest 2:00.47. It was the same time teenagers like Athing Mu and Keely Hodgkinson became Olympic Gold and Silver medalists in Tokyo.
Mu and Hodgkinson were and are still seen as the future of the sport, but life comes at you pretty fast. These two, as expected, were the treat of the crowd at last year’s world championships in Eugene, but Moraa wasn’t far off, as seen by her the Bronze she snagged. This year, the Kenyan will be looking to usurp the established order and hopefully become the second Gold medalist in the event since Eunice Sum won it for the East African nation at the world championships in Moscow.
Moraa’s 2023 season has been a roller-coaster; capping it up with Gold in Budapest will be the icing on the cake. The Kenyan picked up from where she left off last season, in which she won Commonwealth Gold and the Diamond Trophy, while also lowering her Personal Best to 1:56.71 in Eugene. Not only has she come close to her PB this year, she remains unbeaten in all her races, including the 400m which she ran a National record of 50.38 to win the National title this year.
Moraa takes her semi-final, photo by Getty Images for World Athletics
Despite her unquestionable talent in the 400m, it is the 800m that she wants to leave a mark. And if Moraa is to win Gold in Budapest, she will potentially have to run faster than she has ever run in her lifetime. Also, a tilt at breaking Pamela Jelimo’s National Record of 1:54.04 from 2008 will motivate the 23- year old.
For her to achieve this feat, Moraa will have to scale the obstacles of Mu and Hodgkinson. Her head-to-head against the latter stands at two-nill, but Mu has been finicky with her races this year. That’s what you get when you are under the guidance of the great Bobby Kersee. The two losses came before the 2022 World Championships and during the event itself. It could be argued that Moora was still on a renaissance. (Editor’s note: On August 2, 2023, several media sources are reporting that Athing Mu may or may not run in Budapest, per her coach, Bobby Kersee).
It is against Hodgkinson that Moraa enjoys a slightly better head-to-head, having won her four times out of her seven meetings, winning the last three races against the Brit. Particularly, the win at the Commonwealth Games in 2022 stood out. It was in Birmingham the world witnessed her Fartlek running style.
Mary Moraa takes the 800m from Keely Hodgkinson, photo by Diamond League AG.
In the race last year, Moora had flown through the first 200m in 25.9 seconds, with Hodgkinson already a few strides adrift in 26.7 as she struggled to keep up with the searing pace. Most runners who had gone out so hard would have been dead on their legs, but Moora was enjoying a second wind and surged past Hodgkinson to take the win in 1:57.07.
Still, those tactics were surprisingly effective – and not planned either. Following her super-fast first 200m (1:43 pace for 800m!), she slowed to 30.9, 31.0 and 29.3 splits. When asked why she ran that way, she largely shrugged her shoulders and agreed she would not use them again deliberately if she found herself in a similar race. There is a high chance she will find herself in a similar race in Budapest.
She doesn’t know the kind of form Mu will turn up with. The American is undefeated over the distance since 2019. That’s the sort of form that gets most of her rivals scared. Not Moraa. The Kenyan has a knack for mixing and matching various kinds of racing styles. It’s what makes her unique. And in Budapest, she will have another chance to show the world how far she has come.
And we do not know now if Athing Mu will show up. The 800 meters will certainly be entertaining.