Olympic Athletics - Day Nine: Semenya vs. Savinova; Good vs. Evil

No pressure Caster, but the forces for Good are relying on you

Coming off the high of his Men's 800m predictions, Jack Houghton thinks Caster Semenya and Pamela Jelimo can triumph over Mariya Savinova in the Women's race. And although Team GB's Mo Farah has strong claims in the 5,000m, the value call is to support Bernard Lagat to medal.

"Were the IAAF to have put Caster Semenya in a cage, inside a big-top, marked with a ghoulish-fonted placard announcing a freak-show inside, asked the world’s population to traipse by to ogle at her naked form, then they would have struggled to demean her more than their chosen course-of-action actually did."


Men's 5,000m:
After a scintillating triumph in the 10,000m, Mo Farah is joint-favourite, at around 2.89/5, to add the 5,000m gold medal to his haul. That he is one of a handful of likely winners is without question, but what's less clear is whether, as his odds suggest, he would win this race three or four times out of 10.

Looking at the workmanlike way he qualified, it is easy to doubt Farah's chances. He has said he found his heat tough: on the one hand feeling tired from winning, and dealing with the post-race media commitments of that 10,000m; on the other sensing that he was a "marked man", constantly bumped and baulked by other athletes. For the most part, though, I think the visual impression of a labouring Farah has been overstated. There are obvious reasons why he wouldn't have felt at his best - none more so than the heat and humidity of a midday race that won't be a factor in the evening-staged final - and I'm inclined to think we'll see Farah at his best on Saturday night.

And he'll need to be, because this is undoubtedly a stronger field than the one Farah faced in the 10,000m, and it is at a distance over which he is arguably weaker. Much has been made of the fact that, at the Paris Diamond League meeting over 5,000m, the first six athletes home all posted times faster than Mo's personal best, led by the other joint-favourite here, Dejen Gebremeskel (2.89/5).

Less emphasis seems to have been placed - except by Mo himself - on the fact that he has consistently beaten most of those athletes when racing them. I have little doubt that, should the Africans decide to make this fast, Farah is more than capable of staying with them and significantly improving his personal best, but I'm less certain whether he would retain his last-lap potency in such a race. There are more athletes in this field who can compete with Farah when it comes to finishing speed, and, in a final lap tear-up, Farah will be tested more sternly than he was in the 10,000m.

I'm inclined to think that Farah will win, but, at the available odds, he doesn't represent value. A better shout is to support the near-OAP Bernard Lagat in the Top Three market at around 2.486/4. He has a habit of peaking at major championships and is able to win whatever the pace of the race. More than anything, he is likely to be largely ignored by the other athletes, whose attention will be directed towards Farah, and can come late to get a medal.


Women's 800m:
In my mind, at least, this race is about more than just who wins an Olympic gold: it is a battle between the forces of Good and Evil. At the World Championships in Berlin three years' ago, when asked to comment on rumours over the gender of Caster Semenya, Russian athlete Mariya Savinova allegedly said: "Just look at her." Nice woman.

From that point on, after Semenya had burst on to the scene with a stunning 1.55 to win the title in Berlin, she was subjected to a persistently degrading and unnecessarily public process whereby the essence of who she is was called into question. Were the IAAF to have put her in a cage, inside a big-top, marked with a ghoulish-fonted placard announcing a freak-show inside, asked the world's population to traipse by to ogle at her naked form, then they would have struggled to demean her more than their chosen course-of-action actually did.

In athletics' terms, it means we haven't seen the best of Semenya. Running 1.55 as an 18-year-old, she looked to have the potential to challenge a world record that has stood since 1983, but instead, we have hardly seen her produce anything near her best since, with the exception of an unexpected return to form in time for the World Championships last year, where she finished second to Savinova. And, just as in Daegu, despite running appallingly all year, she looks to have found form at the right time, qualifying for the final her with ease, where she will start as the 1.8910/11 favourite.

And she needs to be in form, because, for the first time, the best 800m runners of their generation - Savinova, Semenya and Pamela Jelimo (5.805/1) - have made it to the final of a major championship at something approaching their best form. As predicted here, the men's 800m served up something exceptional, and I have a sneaking suspicion we might be in for something equally special here.

On the basis that there are three athletes with the potential to challenge the world record, I'm going to have a speculative interest in that market, at 25.024/1, as well as backing Pamela Jelimo to win. It's worth remembering that she has run quicker than anyone in this field, and has showed consistent form in winning Grand Prix races this season. However, I'll also be backing Semenya to cover my stake on Jelimo.

That way, provided Good does triumph over Evil, I'll be able to say I was on the right side of things. By the way, during the race, just look at Savinova's stupid Lego-hair.

Recommended Bets
2 points Bernard Lagat at 2.486/4 to medal in Men's 5,000m.
1 point back New World Record at 25.024/1 in Women's 800m.
3 points back Pamela Jelimo at 5.805/1 in Women's 800m.
3 points back Caster Semenya at 1.8910/11 in Women's 800m.

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