Superb Nakaayi…

Nakaayi is on form. PHOTO/COURTESY 

What you need to know:

Ultimate Fighter. Medal talk over the women’s 800m event has been tapped on three names: American Athing Mu, powerful Kenyan Mary Moraa and then Great Britain’s Keely Hodgkinson. But 2019 world champion Halimah Nakaayi of Uganda has refused to go away. She on Saturday ran the world lead time over the two-lap distance and thereby broke her own national record for a third time in 10 months to 1:57.56 minutes after she won the LA Grand Prix in California, USA.

Not once, not twice, Halimah Nakaayi has been written off. Strangely, it has happened more times in the aftermath of her victory over the 800m during the 2019 Doha World Athletics Championships in Qatar.

Somehow, Nakaayi keeps bouncing back. The middle-distance runner just knows how to find her way back into conversations of the bigwigs in the global track and field arena.

And if there is anything she needed to raise her hopes of winning the Olympic title come August’s Paris 2024 Games in France, it arrived far away on the west coast of the USA at the weekend.

Nakaayi produced the world’s fastest time of 2024 and also the national record (NR) over the two-lap distance after she won her race during the USA Track & Field (USATF) Los Angeles Grand Prix on Saturday night.

The 29-year-old showed there is still more room at the top after she powered in the home stretch to beat Ethiopian Tsige Duguma at the tape after both dipped in after one minute and 57.56 seconds.

Significantly, event officials awarded Nakaayi the win after she edged the world indoor champion Duguma by 0.006 seconds inside the Drake Stadium. Nakaayi has now rewritten that NR five times in five years, thrice in 10 months.

“Of course I would like to be an Olympic champion,” Nakaayi said in an interview with World Athletics. “It’s my dream,” she said after a superb performance. Of course, there are still two months to the Paris Games and Nakaayi must work to get the finer details right.

But to be able to break the 800m trio of reigning world champion Kenyan Mary Moraa, reigning Olympic champion American Athing Mu and Great Britain’s Keely Hodgkinson for a medal in Paris, the victory in Los Angeles struck Nakaayi’s mind right.

She started off fast in lane 9 on the blue tartan and at the 400m mark, she crossed in 55.74 seconds, just a place behind the leader Duguma who had clocked 55.62.

There was support of the green wave light at 1:56.30 and when it came to the closing stages, the pair was clear of the rest of the group and Nakaayi had to battle it out with Duguma.

Nakaayi caught up shortly after the final bend, squeezing through the small space on lane 1 before dipping in. She clapped her hands, held her waist as a natural smile of delight on her face.  

Meanwhile, three-time 10000m world champion Joshua Cheptegei had posted third place in a time of 12:52.38 after the 5000m race on Friday.

This was Cheptegei’s first track race since last August. “It was nice to come back to the track,” Cheptegei posted via his X handle.

Cheptegei would have probably won but he was boxed in by eventual winner Ethiopian Selemon Barega with about 600m to go. “He wasn’t positioned in the right way. But good for a season opener,” said Cheptegei’s coach Addy Ruiter.

Barega posted 12:51.60 while another Ethiopian Berihu Aregawi who again locked Cheptegei inside, with about 300m to go, came second in 12:52.09. World cross-country champion Jacob Kiplimo of Uganda came in fourth place in 12:52.91.


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