BERLIN — Anna Willard avoided trouble Tuesday and passed her first test at the 2009 track and field world championships.

The Greenwood native and 2002 graduate of Telstar Regional High School finished fifth in her heat in the women’s 1,500-meter run to advance to the semifinals.

In a race that featured a lot of pushing and bumping as the runners jockeyed for position, Willard was timed in 4 minutes, 8.13 seconds — the fifth fastest time among the 26 qualifiers. Her race was easily the fastest of the three first-round heats.

“It was a physical race,” Willard said. “There was a lot of shoving. But that’s fine. I expected that. You expect the physicality, especially in the first round.”

Willard, 25, narrowly avoided disaster when one of her competitors fell in front of her.  

“Everyone is super antsy with all the waiting,” Willard said. “It’s already been a couple of days of the championships, and everyone is excited to go. When you are running slower than your PR pace, everyone wants the perfect position, so that’s going to happen.”

Fellow American Shannon Rowbury was not so fortunate. Rowbury was knocked down twice by the same runner during her heat, and she struggled home in 11th place in 4:10.30. A protest was successful, however, allowing her a berth in the semifinals.

Christin Wurth-Thomas, the top-ranked American in the 1,500, led most of her heat and ended up fourth to easily advance.

The versatile Willard, the former American record holder in the 3,000 steeplechase — the event she competed in at the 2008 Olympics — is concentrating on the 1,500 this summer. Her personal best is 4:01.44.

The 1,500 semifinals will be run Friday.


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