She fell to the back, got trapped on the inside, and seemed, at times, tactically uncertain. Yet American middle distance runner Marla Runyan showed a burst of speed when it mattered most, accelerating in the homestretch from the middle of the pack to fourth in her semifinal group, securing a place in Sunday's women's 1,500-meter final at the world track and field championships.
Runyan, the first legally blind runner to compete in a major international meet, finished in 4 minutes 5.27 seconds, a personal best and the 11th-best 1,500-meter time of the night. Runyan has 20/300 vision in both eyes and sees only blurred images on the track. After the grueling race at Olympic Stadium, the 30-year-old from Eugene, Ore., was ecstatic.
Though she won a gold medal at the Pan American Games this summer in Winnipeg, Manitoba, she never had faced such an elite field.
"I was basically saying to myself the whole race: `Relax, run efficiently and don't panic. Just stay in contact and wait for a kick,' " Runyan said. "I just can't believe it. A couple of times during the race, I was like, `Well, I may not make the final -- but isn't it awesome to be in the stadium?' "
A former heptathlete, Runyan began concentrating on the 1,500 meters this summer. She decided to run that race -- instead of the 800 -- at the U.S. championships in June, based on a coin flip. Still, though she has made tremendous progress, she is not considered a medal contender here. American Regina Jacobs, Russia's Svetlana Masterkova and several others have far more experience and better credentials.
However, Runyan wasn't even considered a favorite to make it this far.
"I'm so used to my vision being the way it is because I learned the track as a legally blind person," said Runyan, who began suffering from macular degeneration at about age 8. "I don't know how everyone else sees it."
Added Runyan, grinning: "I know where the finish line is. It's always at the end of the straightaway."
For Better -- or Worse
Reston's married couple, Rich Kenah and Cheri Kenah, saw their world championship dreams dashed. It was their first trip to a world championships for which both qualified. Rich Kenah, who won the bronze in the men's 800 at the 1997 world championships, failed to advance to the 800-meter final, barely missing the cut. Cheri Kenah finished 11th in the women's 5,000-meter final.
"It's not what I wanted," she said. "I thought if I had a great day, top six. A good day, top 10. I had a mediocre day, but I learned a lot."
Said Rich Kenah: "My expectations were to make the final. I don't know if I had medal aspirations this year. . . . [The goal was] for both of us to make the finals. We're about halfway there." . . .
Arlington's Bryan Woodward also failed to advance after taking a tumble in his 800-meter semifinal. Woodward, who finished last among the competitors, was livid at the bumping that he blamed on Australia's Grant Cremer. Cremer was disqualified.
"Not to say any names, but I think I'm looking at the fella right now," Woodward said, nodding toward Cremer. "He was really being physical, really being rough. That's part of racing, but it kind of got out of hand. . . . Naturally, I'm disappointed." . . .
Sweden's Ludmila Engquist posted the fastest time of the night -- and second-fastest of the year -- with a 12.50 in the 100-meter hurdles semifinals. Engquist, who has been competing despite having had breast cancer diagnosed in March, continues her emotional quest to defend her world title in the event in Saturday's final. At the end of her heat, Engquist broke down in tears.