BERLIN — With 500 meters to go and a pedestrian pace, Anna Willard was tempted to take the lead.

The Telstar graduate and native of Greenwood didn’t want to press her luck or do anything “crazy.” The goal was to simply finish in the top five to qualify for the finals in the women’s
1,500 at the world championships, and Willard admitted afterwards that
she still lacks the confidence to employ such a strategy on the world
stage in a semifinal race.

“My plan was to stay toward the front and use my tools, and at 300 meters, try to kick it in,” Willard said.

With one of the best finishing kicks in the field, Willard stayed patient, slipped free after getting stuck on the rail and survived a heart-stopping sprint home to place third and earn a berth in Sunday’s final.

Stuck in a slow tactical race, Willard’s final time of 4 minutes, 10.47 seconds was two seconds slower than her quarterfinal race Tuesday. By contrast, the winning time in the other semifinal race was 4:03.64.

Gelete Burka of Ethiopia won Willard’s heat with a time of 4:10:19, while Mariem Alaoui Selsouli of Morocco nipped Willard at the line in 4:10.46. The pack of runners was so tight at the finish that four runners who finished less than second behind Willard failed to qualify for the finals.

All three Americans qualified for Sunday’s final. Shannon Rowbury finished just behind Willard in fourth, while the top seeded U.S. runner Christin Wurth-Thomas easily advanced by finishing fourth in the faster semifinal.

“It’s really exciting,” Willard said. “I know all three of us belong in there. It’s great for everybody else to see what’s happening with the American women’s middle-distance running.”

Only two Americans — Mary Decker Slaney and Regina Jacobs — had initially won a medal in the women’s 1,500, but both of them later had their medals stripped for drug use.

With an elusive world championship medal on the line Sunday, Willard said confidence won’t be an issue if she has the opportunity to move into the lead.

“Why enter a race if you don’t feel like you can win, especially where I feel like I am right now,” Willard said.

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