Uganda’s Halimah Nakaayi pulls off huge upset victory in Doha 800m

PROPELLED by a perfectly-timed homestretch kick, Uganda’s Halimah Nakaayi pulled off a huge upset victory in the women’s 800m final at athletics World Championships in Doha, Qatar on Tuesday.

The rank outsider Ugandan, who had never before run in a World Championships or an  Olympic final was an instant spectacle in her country and indeed Kenya, the neighbours  with a more illustrious record in these competitions. Kenya, previous winners of this event were outclassed, their only finalist, Eunice Sum a former world champion was fifth in 1:59.71.

Halimah Nkaayi, top and above, of Uganda surprised herself beyond belief at winning the women's 800m gold at the IAAF World Championships in Doha on Tuesday night
Halimah Nakaayi, top and above, of Uganda surprised herself beyond belief at winning the women’s 800m gold at the IAAF World Championships in Doha on Tuesday night

Uganda never had a World Championships finalist in the women’s 800m. On Tuesday night they had two and Nakaayi was the lesser known of the pair, but she didn’t play the part at what has been the most energised session of these championships at Khalifa Stadium.

Winnie Nanyondo, the second Ugandan, was fourth in 1:59.18. A few minutes later she joined her teammate for a celebratory dance in front of a swarming pool of photographers. She returns to action on Wednesday in the heats of the 1,500m, arguably her stronger event.

Pre-race favourite Ajee Wilson took command after the break, with Jamaican Natoya Goule closely in tow. About 250 metres into the race Nakaayi tucked in behind the pair and lodged herself comfortably.

Beatrice Chepkoech goes over the hurdle on her way to victory for Kenya in the women's 3,000m steeplechase in Doha
Beatrice Chepkoech goes over the hurdle on her way to victory for Kenya in the women’s 3,000m steeplechase in Doha

Wilson kept the pace fast and forged on, passing the bell in 57.94, maintaining her lead down the back straight. But Nakaayi kept the pressure on, shadowing the American through the bend, seemingly waiting for the opportunity to pounce. Wilson began to labour at the top of the home straight, giving Nakaayi an opening. She took it with about 30 metres to go, chugged by and held on to reach the line in 1:58.04, a national record.

On the outside, Raevyn Rogers blew by the field to finish second in 1:58.18, while Ajee held on for third to secure a 1-2 finish for the US. She clocked 1:58.84

“I was feeling so good, I knew something special was going to happen tonight,” said Nakaayi, whose only previous big meet medal came at the All Africa Games in August, where she took bronze. “So I just kept pushing and pushing. I was feeling strong and in the end I got it.”

Kenya’s first winner in Doha, Ruth Chepngetic, women’s marathon
Kenya’s first winner in Doha, Ruth Chepngetich, women’s marathon

Rogers, a three-time NCAA champion and now 23, signaled solid late season form with a runner-up finish at the Diamond League final in Brussels. She was pleased to carry some of that momentum to Doha.

“Silver means a lot to me,” she said. “It’s been a hard year with lots of ups and downs mentally and in other ways so this is a great way to end.”

I’ve got to feel good,” said Wilson, who raced to silver at the last two editions of the World Indoor Championships and bronze in London two years ago. “I wanted to win of course and went E

Kenya, overall medal-count winners of these championships in Beijing in 2015 were have difficulties finding their footing, with only two victories so far, five gold medals short of their haul (seven) in Beijing and Daegu (2011). In Doha, USA lead with seven gold and on two are China, Jamaica and Kenya.

Kenyan runners again turned up poorly on the fourth day on Monday, being outclassed in the men’s 5,000m final by Ethiopia, Canada and Norway and the top Kenyans finishing sixth (Jacob Rop) and Nicholas Kimeli (eighth).

Women 800m:

1 1810 Halimah Nakaayi UGA 1:58.04 NR
2 1999 Raevyn Rogers USA 1:58.18 SB
3 2016 Ajee Wilson USA 1:58.84
4 1811 Winnie Nanyondo UGA 1:59.18
5 1316 Eunice Jepkoech Sum KEN 1:59.71
6 1181 Natoya Goule JAM 2:00.11
7 1383 Rababe Arafi MAR 2:00.48
8 1951 Ce’Aira Brown USA 2:02.97
Men’s 5,000m:


1 700 Muktar Edris ETH 12:58.85 SB
2 695 Selemon Barega ETH 12:59.70
3 394 Mohammed Ahmed CAN 13:01.11
4 696 Telahun Haile Bekele ETH 13:02.29
5 1486 Jakob Ingebrigtsen NOR 13:02.93
6 1290 Jacob Krop KEN 13:03.08 PB
7 1873 Paul Chelimo USA 13:04.60 SB
8 1280 Nicholas Kipkorir Kimeli KEN 13:05.27
9 361 Birhanu Balew BRN 13:14.66
10 407 Justyn Knight CAN 13:26.63
11 1918 Hassan Mead USA 13:27.05
12 170 Stewart McSweyn AUS 13:30.41
13 1485 Henrik Ingebrigtsen NOR 13:36.25
14 250 Isaac Kimeli BEL 13:44.29
1484 Filip Ingebrigtsen NOR DNF


Kenyan medallists in Doha:

Ruth Chepngetich  (Women’s marathon) –  Gold

 Beatrice Chepkoech (Women’s 3,000m steeplechase) – Gold

 Ferguson Rotich (Men’s 800m) – Bronze

Agnes Jebet Tirop (Women’s 10,000m) – Bronze



– Main reporting by Bob Ramsak (IAAF)

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