Laura Muir (coach: Steve Vernon, club: Dundee Hawkhill) and Katie Snowden (Stephen Haas, Herne Hill) battled to sixth and eighth respectively in the women’s 1500m final on day four of the World Athletics Championships as Matthew Hudson-Smith (Gary Evans, Birchfield Harriers) smashed a near 36-year-old European record in the men’s 400m semi-finals to underline his credentials in Budapest.
Muir, the Olympic silver medallist from Tokyo and bronze medallist from last year’s global gathering, was in contention throughout a women’s 1500m final that ended rapidly but was stretched out of another major medal as she clocked 3:58.58 minutes for sixth. Teammate Snowden battled valiantly herself behind Muir to place eighth in 3:59.65 while Melissa Courtney-Bryant (Rob Denmark, Poole) was 12th in 4:03.31.
Hudson-Smith meanwhile blasted himself into gold medal contention in the men’s 400m by smashing the extremely long-standing European record, as well as his own British record, clocking 44.26 seconds to win a superbly run semi-final.
The other British athlete attempting to reach a final on the night, Jessie Knight (Marina Armstrong, Windsor Slough Eton & Hounslow), unfortunately missed out in the women’s 400m hurdles.
Earlier in the evening four British athletes progressed to their own semi-finals. Cindy Sember (Chris Johnson, Woodford Green Essex Ladies) did enough in the women’s 100m hurdles and there was a clean sweep in the men’s 800m with Max Burgin (Ian Burgin, Halifax), Daniel Rowden (Jon Bigg, Woodford Green & Essex Ladies) and Ben Pattison (Dave Ragan, Basingstoke & Mid Hants) navigating their way through to the next round.
The women’s 1500m final concluded a fourth day on the banks of the Danube which featured nine British athletes in total and Muir said: “I thought I positioned myself well. It was slow and I was covering moves and things – it was just that last lap was crazy. It is just another one of those crazy finals.
“I felt like I won before coming into the race because I am happy. It has been hard, but I can’t thank [enough] the number of people that have supported me – it has been amazing. These two [Katie and Melissa] have done great, I am so proud of them.
“We were the only nation to have three in the final. I just can’t thank everyone enough. I am proud of that performance. I gave everything I could today and that is all I could ask of myself. I ran 3:56 in the semi-final – it has been hard, but I am really excited for the future.”
The women’s 1500m final began with an all-out sprint to get to the front, which Muir was well and truly in the mix of, but it was won by Kenyan favourite Faith Kipyegon, who then proceeded to slow the entire field down.
Muir was pushing to be part of the front three after 200m with Snowden and Courtney-Bryant tucked nicely in behind. Kipyegon began to set a steadier pace, but little changed positionally over the next lap with the Brits largely remaining where they were.
Muir had to battle to keep her position in the front three, and on the outside, before the bell as Courtney-Bryant unfortunately found the going starting to get tough. Muir was fifth at the bell and Snowden seventh as Kipyegon set a rapid pace and stretched the entire field out.
With 150m to go the medals were sadly out of reach for Muir and Snowden but they battled on valiantly to finish sixth and eighth respectively in 3:58.58 and 3:59.65. Courtney-Bryant was 12th in 4:03.31 as Kipyegon won in 3:54.87 after that rapid final lap.
Snowden said: “It wasn’t actually as quick as I thought it was going to be. When I saw it was a 64-65 second first lap and it was pretty bunched – we weren’t going as fast as I thought. I think the semis took quite a lot out of me.
“From the first lap I felt quite heavy legged and not as poppy as the semis – that was frustrating. I set a big PB in the last round and now eighth in the world – I can’t complain that much.”
Like Snowden, Courtney-Bryant was competing in her maiden World Championship final and she said: “I have to be really happy that I am in a World Championship final. The strength in British distance running, and in that final, is incredible. That was a really below-par performance from me so I feel really disappointed.
“I don’t really know what’s wrong, I don’t really have any excuses, I just felt rubbish today. I was really good in warm up, everything was leading for it to be good, but as soon as the gun went, I was like ‘oh no, my legs are not there’ and that is really hard because the stadium, the atmosphere, family and friends here – it is a big stage and you want to perform here.”
Hudson-Smith had qualified for the semi-finals of the men’s 400m in second from his heat in a season’s best time of 44.69, alluding afterwards that he had the legs to do something impressive with his next outing – and that’s exactly what happened.
He ran a perfect race in the second semi-final – in complete control throughout after blasting out of the blocks and visibly leading after 200m. By the time he came round the final bend, he was in the lead by a good five metres but continued powering to the line.
Hudson-Smith’s face suggested the race wasn’t taking anything out of him at all and – despite clearly slowing down with the race won – he stopped the clock in a new European record,, British record and personal best of 44.26, lowering the near 36-year-old continental mark held by Germany’s Thomas Schönlebe by 0.07.
A bronze medallist from the last edition of these World Championships in Eugene 12 months ago, Hudson-Smith’s win in the second of the three semi-finals in 44.26 ranked him second overall going into the final.
He said: “I will be happy when I get that medal, as for today [the record], that is just job done. Coach told me to execute 300 and make sure the job was done, and then when I knew I was clear, I was saving something for the final, and I did that. I just need to get that medal now.
“My coach told me beforehand to enjoy it. He said ‘have you done this before?’ and ‘do you feel like you deserve to be here?’ I have worked too damned hard to not get to the final. So I am really happy to have made it and it is all about getting that medal on Thursday.”
All three of the Brits in the men’s 800m were drawn in separate heats with Burgin the first of the trio on the track. Typically, Burgin went to the front from the gun, which meant he avoided some shoving behind him, and he was clear ahead through the first 100m.
The field in that second heat went through the first lap in 50.81 with Burgin – who cruelly failed to take to the track at the last World Championships in Eugene after a late, late injury – looking very comfortable.
Australian Joseph Deng moved up on him around the final bend but Burgin kept his nerve and even injected some pace in the final metres to guarantee himself an automatic qualifying place – finishing second in 1:45.43, just 0.03 behind Polish winner Mateusz Borkowski.
He said: “It feels like a long time coming. It has been frustrating missing all these major championships over the last couple of years, so it feels great that I have finally made it. I made it to the start line and got into the semis so it is already an improvement on last year.
“I am in good shape, and hopefully I will have more to give in the next round. I felt as good as I did in London [Diamond League] today, so it is a good sign.”
Pattison, on his World Championship debut, was the last of the three British athletes to go in the men’s 800m heats and – unlike his teammates – he was following the leaders as his fifth heat went off.
He was well placed in third throughout the first lap and remained composed as Spain’s Mohamed Attaou attempted to muscle past shortly after. The pace upped with 300m to go, and Pattison admittedly was left with work to do.
He went really wide coming out of the final bend – out in lane three – but it worked and his kick for an automatic qualifying place was superb as, like Burgin, he finished second – looking and feeling great – in a time of 1:46.57.
He said: “As per usual I made it look a bit messy, but in my head it was never in doubt. I always knew I would get through, which is weird if you watch the race because I was back in sixth at one point.
“But I’ve done that so many times now that I have got the experience to know if I get out and into space, I can beat anyone in the last 100m and I backed myself to do that.”
British champion Rowden followed Burgin in the fourth of the seven men’s 800m heats and he too looked to get to the front at the cut in after 100m – looking around to see who might try to join him.
He was muscled out of the lead by Norway’s Ole Jakob Solbu and was actually fourth at the bell after finding himself slightly boxed in. That remained the case despite Rowden making a move wide down the back straight with a bit of effort needed over the last 100m.
However that was no problem for Rowden who produced a great kick down the home straight, first passing Croatia’s Marino Bloudek and then edging by Poland’s Filip Ostrowski for third place and an automatic qualifying spot in 1:45.67.
Rowden said: “It was very messy and I am very fortunate to get through. I’m a lot better than that, but that was my fault. Bad positioning, bad tactically – but by God’s grace I am through to the next round.
“I’ve learnt [from that race] that you can’t make any mistakes. I had a plan going into it but I think I stuck to it a little too rigidly – rather than adapting – and I was fortunate I had the strength to come through to the finish. My change of pace was good when I needed it.”
Sember, competing at her fourth career World Championships, was the first British athlete in action on day four as she set about reaching successive global finals in the women’s 100m hurdles on the banks of the Danube.
She was drawn in the third of five heats, needing to finish in the top four to progress automatically – and that was exactly what she did as she produced a solid race to place fourth in a time of 12.83.
Sember finished fast for that season’s best time and she said: “The goal is always to qualify and I did that. I had a bit of nerves and I’ve had some niggles this year so I am just happy to make it and I am looking forward to the semi.
“It’s been a little bit of a late start to the year, and so I was a little bit behind, but now I have that confidence knowing I can still hurdle, now I know I can really take it into the semi-final.”
Knight won her heat in the women’s 400m hurdles on day three and was drawn in the first of the three semi-finals in lane eight on day four. She had to keep her composure as American Anna Cockrell in lane seven flew ahead of her early on, the Brit knowing she has an extremely fast finish.
She would make up significant ground down the home straight, surging into fourth place and crossing the line in a time of 54.51 – but outside the top two that automatically qualify for the final and the last of the two non-automatic qualifiers at the time.
Knight would unfortunately be pushed out, eventually ranking 12th overall, 0.62 off a place in a first ever World Championship final, and she said: “I am not going to lie, I am gutted – but it’s better than some of the more recent championships that I have done.
“I really feel like I was in the shape to make that final so it’s a tough one to take but it just wasn’t good enough today. But two 54s? It was solid. I mucked up the last hurdle which will probably haunt me a bit but yes it was very solid.
“I needed to find 0.4 more today and I couldn’t find it. I need more speedwork as I am struggling over the first half of the race and leaving myself too much to do at the end.”
The Great Britain and Northern Ireland medal tally:
Gold (1): Katarina Johnson-Thompson – Women’s Heptathlon
Silver (1): Mixed 4x400m Relay
Bronze (1): Zharnel Hughes – Men’s 100m