Uganda: Nakaayi, Nanyondo Hurting

Emotions must have run high in the room shared by Ugandan middle-distance pair of Halimah Nakaayi and Winnie Nanyondo at the Tokyo Olympics' Games Village on Saturday night.

The silence coupled with tears and disbelief therein can only be imagined to be of great proportions.

Neither could console the other enough after both failed to progress past the 800m semi-final Heats to the two-lap final due tomorrow.

Nakaayi, in particular, arrived in Tokyo as the reigning world champion and had even broken her own national record to 1:58.03 in Monaco early last month. However the 26-year-old, strangely gave no fight for the desired top two places when she came in for Heat 1 of the semis.

'Big disappointment'

"Halimah was a big disappointment," her coach Addy Ruiter painfully described her performance where she came eighth in a time of 2:44sec.

This was Nakaayi's slowest time since posting 2:04.73 while running the Denka Athletics Challenge in Japan for fun while on holiday after winning the world title two years ago.

Nakaayi, who had to overcome a scare when she finished fourth in Round 1 on Friday to qualify among the next fastest six across six Heats, came in also ranked as world number three and on Saturday, she was respectfully fourth at the bell.

But by the time 300m were left, she had taken a position at the back of the field, won by in-form Jamaican Natoya Goule beat in a time of 1:59.57.

"She was complaining about pain in her waist that was going down into her left leg," added Ruiter.

The disappointment couldn't be taken by Nanyondo immediately after she had finished a distant fifth in Heat 3.

The New York Times' reporter Tariq Panja tweeted images of a teary Nanyondo being consoled by an equally emotional Benin's Noelle Yarigo. Both had missed out.

"Athletics can be very lonely, but there is a great spirit among competitors once races are run," read part of the tweet.

Tell you what, one race or position could mean everything to a runner. It could mean miss out on a contractual bonus from their management Global Sports Communication or kit sponsor Nike, among other things.

And whereas Nakaayi didn't give a fight, Nanyondo gave it her all, even dipping under two minutes for the first time this season (1:59.84). She crossed the halfway line in fourth place and when Cuban Rose Mary Almanza began to charge, Nanyondo wanted to go it but China's Chunyu Wang was in her way.

Nanyondo tapped Wang's back for space, which she seemed to get, but for a brief spell. With 150m to go, Moroccan Rabade Arafi coming through lane 2 appeared to trip Nanyondo from behind but she maintained her balance.

Dour history

By the time they faced the finish line, Britain's Keely Hodgkinson was ahead with Wang, while Nanyondo was still sandwiched in lane 1, implying that no Ugandan female has ever reached the 800m final at the Olympics.

Five years ago at the Rio Olympics in Brazil, Nakaayi stopped in the semis while Nanyondo didn't go past Round 1.

It further implies that, had the coronavirus pandemic not surfaced to leave the Tokyo Games in 2020, probably, the pair would still have kept their form from 2019 into the Olympics.

But, that's only if!

And Nanyondo could be the most hurt of the two because, she had tried to change many things including coach and camp from Kampala to Europe over the last year.

Her disappointments have come in succession though; identical fourth-place finishes over the 800m finals at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in Australia and the 2019 Doha World Championships in Qatar cement her misery.

Nanyondo, however, had to wipe her tears to stand up for the women's 1500m Heats in the early hours of today.

Women's 800m at Olympics

Tokyo 2020: Halimah Nakaayi (Semis 8th, 2:04.44), Winnie Nanyondo (Semis 5th, 1:59.84)

Rio 2016: Halimah Nakaayi (Semis 6th, 2:00.63), Winnie Nanyondo (Heats 6th, 2:02.77)

Sydney 2000: Grace Birungi (Heats 5th, 2:03.32)

Barcelona 1992: Edith Nakiyingi Heats 7th, 2:03.55)

Los Angeles 1984: Evelyn Adiru (Heats 6th, 2:07.39)

Women's 800m Semis

RESULTS - HEAT 1

1.Natoya Goule JAM 1:59.57

2.Jemma Reekie GBR 1:59.77

3.Mary Moraa KEN 2:00.47

8.Halimah Nakaayi UGA 2:04.44

HEAT 3

1.Keely Hodgkinson GBR 1:59.12

2.Chunyu Wang CHN 1:59.14

3.Raevyn Rogers USA 1:59.28

5.Winnie Nanyondo UGA 1:59.84

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