By Johanna Gretschel - for FloTrack
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With an American record effort, Donavan Brazier lived up to the highest of expectations by becoming the first American to win the gold medal in the 800 meters at the IAAF World Championships. His winning time of 1:42.34 broke Johnny Gray's 34-year-old U.S. record of 1:42.6 and set a new championship record, to boot.
The 22-year-old is now tied with Wilfred Bungei of Kenya as the ninth-fastest performer in world history in the event.
He can thank Puerto Rico's Wesley Vazquez for the record, who pushed the pace through 400 meters in 48.99-the fastest split in world history. But while the all-out, frontrunning strategy worked for his semi-final, Vazquez could not keep pace once Brazier made a huge move on the backstretch. The American split 1:15.18 through 600m, 1:28.41 through 700m en route to an unchallenged victory.
Vazquez faded as Amel Tuka of Bosnia earned silver more than a second behind Brazier in 1:43.47, while Ferguson Rotich of Kenya took home the bronze medal in 1:43.82. American Bryce Hoppel, who was in Doha after racing a full collegiate season at the University of Kansas, placed an impressive fourth with a personal best of 1:44.25.
The pressure was immense for Brazier, who despite his status as this year's IAAF Diamond League champion, had never qualified for a world final before Doha. Pundits pegged both Brazier and Ajee' Wilson as gold medal favorites in Qatar, but the women's U.S. champion faltered in her final yesterday evening and could only muster bronze.
Meanwhile, Brazier's training group-the Nike Oregon Project (NOP)-has been under intense scrutiny over the past 24 hours after it was revealed that the program's founder and head coach Alberto Salazar was banned from coaching for four years due to doping-related charges. Today, his credentials were revoked and he was kicked out of the stadium.
Brazier technically trains with NOP assistant Pete Julian, not Salazar, though his teammate Clayton Murphy, also in the final today, is primarily coached by Salazar. Murphy, the 2016 Rio bronze medalist, did not have his signature close today and settled for eighth place, last in the final, in 1:47.84.