800 metres Run - Tactics

In modern 800 m races, runners start from staggered positions on the track and must remain in their respective lanes until the end of first curve (about 115m). After the first curve, competitors may break for the inside, as long as they do not deliberately obstruct or push another competitor. Running at full speed for the entire distance is impossible, and tactics are a factor in reaching the finish line first. Running in the lead is often considered a disadvantage, as trailing runners can choose when to accelerate past the leader, and wind resistance has a greater effect on those in the front of the pack. Runners in lane one but not leading the race must also be careful to avoid becoming boxed in by other runners, as this eliminates the crucial ability to completely control one's own pace. Running in last place is also not recommended, as there may be too much ground to make up when the final sprint for the finish starts.

However, it can be sensible for an athlete to remain at the back of the field if the pace at the front is far too fast, provided that the athlete in question does not leave too much ground to make up. This was illustrated by Kelly Holmes at the 2004 Summer Olympics, where Holmes stayed at the rear of the field until the last 300 m before making a decisive move. A more unorthodox tactical move came from John Woodruff who, in the 1936 Summer Olympics, was boxed in by runners early in the race. He slowed almost to a complete stop, let the runners pass, and then took the third lane to come from behind and take the victory.

In top class races, the lane start usually ensures a brisk pace for the first 200 m. Occasionally, no one will be happy to lead, and the field will bunch for the remainder of the first lap. This usually leads to an abnormally slow first 400 m, and allows the runners extra energy for a hard sprint on the second lap, favouring the sprint type 800 m runner. More often, one runner will ensure a fast first lap and the winner will be the one who slows least on the second lap, despite the appearance of sprinting at the finish. This favours the endurance or distance type 800 m runner. However, the occasional 800 m runner is able to produce a world-class 800 with even laps, or even negative splits.