Having witnessed the fate of Janeth Jepkosgei, the defending champion, in the opening first round heat of the women's 800m on day two of the World Championships yesterday, Jemma Simpson was taking no chances.
The Cornishwoman who appeared as an extra in Neighbours (when she bumped into Ian Smith, the actor who plays Harold Bishop in the Aussie soap, while on a training run along a Melbourne beach after the Commonwealth Games in 2006) and also alongside Tom Hanks in the Da Vinci Code (when her friend's mother was hired as a make-up artist for the film), took the lead role in heat two and made sure she stayed there until a qualifying place was as good as in the bag.
Halfway down the home-straight, Simpson was happy to allow Mariya Savinova of Russia to pass her, settling for the best supporting slot to the European indoor champion, crossing the line runner-up in 2min 03.33sec. Not that it was an entirely trouble-free qualification for the 25-year-old who has moved to true world class this summer after following her coach, Mark Rowland, the 1988 Olympic steeplechase bronze medallist, to the Eugene Track Club in Oregon.
"My right shoe came loose," Simpson said. "It stayed on my foot but it was flapping. It was a bit annoying but I felt good out there. I just wanted to be strong out there and to qualify. I saw what happened in that first race."
What happened was that Jepkosgei, the Kenyan who was a class apart at the last World Championships in Osaka two years ago and who took Olympic silver last year, was removed from the semi-final equation when she was tripped from behind by the new teenage sensation of the women's two-lap event, South African Caster Semenya, with 130m remaining. The strong, boyish-looking Semenya stumbled but managed to stay on her feet and win the heat in 2min 02.81sec. Still, she left the track with a limp that might affect her chances in the semi-final and beyond. "I hurt my foot in the collision," she said.
Thankfully, the other two Britons in the event suffered no mishaps. Jenny Meadows, the 5ft 1in 'Pocket Rocket' from Wigan, finished second in her race, clocking 2:02.47 behind Yulia Krevsun of the Ukraine. Mariyln Okoro qualified in third in her race, with 2:03.07.
Sadly, though, Goldie Sayers failed to make the qualifying cut in the javelin. The Cambridgeshire woman finished fourth in the Olympics last summer but has had to contend with a partial stress fracture of the spine this year – not exactly the kind of minor problem head coach Charles van Commenee told the British team he didn't want to hear as excuses from athletes who performed below par in Berlin. Her best effort yesterday, 58.98m, fell short of the mark required to reach tomorrow's final. "I'm a little bit down and disappointed," Sayers reflected. "I have not had the competitions this season to get the big distances of which I am capable."