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Track and Field: Montano aims high at Worlds

Former Cal star Alysia Johnson Montano begins her quest Thursday to become the first American woman to medal in the 800 meters at the IAAF World Championships.

Montano, who was fourth in this event two years ago by a scant .06 seconds, is projected by the experts at Track and Field News to finish in that same slot at Moscow.

But her coach, Cal’s Tony Sandoval, believes she can exceed those expectations.

“I really expect her to run very well. I expect a PR from her,” he said. “Hopefully, she’s on the podium.”

Montano, 27, has a personal best of 1 minute, 57.34 seconds. She has broken 1:58 the past four years and has won five USA national titles.

At London last summer, she was fifth in the Olympic final.

But not since Kim Gallagher, with a silver at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, has an American woman won a medal at 800 meters in either of the two major international championships.

Attrition could help Montano’s cause. World leader Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi is injured and out. South African Caster Semenya, a silver medalist at London, did not qualify.

The clear favorite is Russian Mariya Savinova, the defending World and Olympic champion. Other contenders include Russian 22-year-old Yekaterina Poistogova, Morocco’s Malika Akkaoui, who is No. 2 on the 2013 world list, and Kenyan Janeth Jepkosgei, who has collected a medal of each color at the past three World meets.

The names don’t matter much to Montano. “Alysia doesn’t think in terms of time and who she competes against,” Sandoval said. “The goal has been to run to her potential.”

In Sunday’s final, Montano will no doubt zoom to the lead and try to force the pace. It’s the tactic she has consistently used the past couple years and it has generally served her well.

“Front-running works best for her and eliminates contact and allow her to relax and dictates to the field,” Sandoval said. “Her aim is train and race to win versus the best in championships meets.”

But can it work against the world’s best?

Sandoval said Montano believes it’s the only way to win.

“It’s a long controlled sprint and not a sit-and-kick in this era,” he said.

The women’s 800-meter schedule:
First-round heats: Wednesday, 10:55 p.m.
Semifinals: Friday, 9:15 a.m.
Final: Sunday, 6:50 a.m.
Note: Times are PDT

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Jeff Faraudo