British 800m runner Keely Hodgkinson (© Getty Images)
In the absence of Athing Mu, the fellow teen sensation who beat her to Olympic gold in Tokyo seven months ago, Keely Hodgkinson will start as the woman to beat over four laps of the Stark Arena – or the young woman to beat, rather.
The burgeoning Briton turned 20 on 3 March, also the 20th anniversary of the 1:55.82 world indoor record Slovenia’s Jolanda Ceplak set in her duel with Stephanie Graf at the 2002 European Indoor Championships in Vienna.
Hodgkinson arrives in Belgrade with not just the world’s fastest time in 2022 but the fastest since that day in 2002, when Jenny Meadows (one half-of Hodgkinson’s husband-and-wife coaching team, together with Trevor Painter) sat watching agog in the stands after exiting in the 800m heats on her senior championship debut.
At the Muller Indoor Grand Prix World Athletics Indoor Tour Gold event in Birmingham on 19 February, Hodgkinson destroyed a world-class field with a stunning victory in 1:57.20, breaking Jemma Reekie’s British indoor record and moving to sixth on the world indoor all-time list.
The 2021 Diamond League winner’s only other indoor race this year has been a 52.42 400m PB as runner up to Jessie Knight at the British Indoor Championships, suggesting that she has the wherewithal to go one better than Meadows, the silver medallist in 2010, and become the first British winner of the world indoor women’s 800m title.
The impressive field, however, is not short of potential contenders. It includes eight of the 10 fastest women in 2022 and, notably, all four who have cracked two minutes since the turn of the year: Hodgkinson, Jamaican Natoya Goule, Uganda’s world champion Halimah Nakaayi and Australia’s Catriona Bisset (1:59.46).
Goule, eighth in the Olympic final in Tokyo, clocked a national record of 1:58.46 in Lievin ahead of Nakaayi’s 1:58.58 Ugandan record, but was a well-beaten third in Birmingham behind Hodgkinson and Bissett, who set an Australian record 1:59.46 on her indoor debut. The Jamaican did, however, boast a 4-2 record outdoors over the emerging Brit in 2021, finishing behind her in Tokyo and in the Diamond League final.
Nobody will be fuelled with greater motivation than Ajee Wilson. The US runner took silver in Portland in 2016 and again in Birmingham in 2018. She failed to make the cut for the Olympic final in Tokyo, bowing out at the semi-final stage. Her best this year is only 2:01.38 but she has won all four of her 800m races and has also clocked a brisk 1:25.29 for 600m
Ethiopia’s Habitam Alemu is also a pedigree performer, having placed fourth in Birmingham in 2018 and sixth in the Olympic final last year. She has yet to race 800m indoors in 2022 but was fourth over 1500m in Torun in 4:02.52.
Simon Turnbull for World Athletics