Too much silver for a positive lining, too many close calls for brave faces. For the second time in a fortnight, and the third major 800m race in a year, Keely Hodgkinson came up a fraction short and wore the expression of an athlete with no more patience for near misses.
The rawest fact of many from an extraordinary and bizarre race is she will leave these Commonwealth Games as the runner up. Just as she left the World Championships in Eugene last month, and just as she departed the Tokyo Olympics before that.
It is a spot she knows too well and it is really beginning to sting for this 20-year-old. But this possibly hurt more than those other two, she admitted, because one difference was key: there was no Athing Mu, the brilliant American who had her number on the previous tussles, and in her absence Hodgkinson thought she had it.
She thought it was her race before the gun, and she may have thought it again when she moved to the front with 90m to go. But then it all took a turn for the strange, because she was done in by a runaway train in Kenyan colours. Or maybe just a lost one, depending on your view of Mary Moraa’s glorious recovery from baffling tactics.
It is necessary at this point to go over how the race was won, or from Hodgkinson’s perspective, the madness of what caused her latest defeat in the bid for gold. In order, Moraa, the world bronze medallist, was sinking without a trace, dead last with 250m to go, having set off at a suicidal pace at the beginning of the race.
After going out in world record speed through the opening 300m, she was hopelessly gassed with half a lap to go. Via her self-inflicted difficulties, it had become a shootout between Hodgkinson and the Jamaican Natoya Goule, with Laura Muir on their heels.
But while they waged a brilliant war at the front – a scenario that saw Hodgkinson take the lead off the final bend – no one initially noticed that Moraa, with her chin pointing to the sky, had come back to life. She reeled them in one at a time, before passing Muir with 80 to go, Goule at 70 and then Hodgkinson in the final 50.
Moraa crossed in 1:57.04, the pace of a true elite in the style of an amateur, and Hodgkinson was second and devastated in 1:57.40. Muir dipped by the tiniest margin ahead of Goule on the line to snatch bronze on a photo finish – a decision that survived a protest by the Jamaican team, thus securing the Commonwealth medal that completes her set from the sport’s biggest stages. She goes again as favourite for 1500m gold on Sunday.
Hodgkinson, meanwhile, must wait until the European Championships in a fortnight to finally break the spell. Like the rest of us, she couldn’t quite process how that wait had not ended on the night.
She said: ‘Frustrated is definitely the right word. I am not sure what happened. I came away with silver – again. I have one more chance this summer. I’m disappointed.
‘I’m still fuming until I am top of that podium.’
She added: ‘I’d give my season 8.5 out of 10. I really wanted the gold. I thought I was going to win today but it wasn’t meant to be.’
Hodgkinson will retreat to reflect on one that got away, even if it should be recognised from those beyond the sport that this was an extremely tough field, which has rarely been the case in the athletics disciplines at these Games. Too many have been pale imitations, but the women’s 800m had no fewer than seven runners with personal bests beneath one minute and 58 seconds – that is a mark of quality. Hodgkinson is the quickest of the bunch, and yet remains without the gold that would better represent her progress in the past 20 months.
On a night when Nick Miller defended his title in the hammer, and Zharnel Hughes recovered from repeated disappointments with a 200m silver, there was a 1500m bronze for the recent world champion Jake Wightman.
As with Hodgkinson, Wightman found himself in a stacked field containing three of the top four from last summer’s Olympics, and for a time he looked to have had their beating.
With his father Geoff commentating in the stands, as he was in Eugene, the son broke with 250m to go, passing the Kenyan combination of Tokyo silver medallist Timothy Cheruiyot and Abel Kipsang to hit the front. But that was an awfully long way out for a kick on tired legs and Cheruiyot reclaimed the lead on the straight and then the Australian Oliver Hoare passed them both in the final three metres. His winning time of 3:30.12 was a new championship record.
A gold and a bronze represents a wonderful summer for Wightman. But ultimately the mental turbulence of his shock win in the US contributed to his defeat here, as Wightman explained: ‘I hope I don’t get shot down for not having won it being a world champion. But people don’t realise how high that world championships was, two weeks is nothing to have to reset. I’m not buzzing but I’m relieved.’
Adam Hague took pole vault silver ahead of Harry Coppell in third.