Paula Radcliffe column: Big three ready for 800m battle as Keely Hodgkinson bids for gold

Paula Radcliffe BBC Sport columnist
Paula Radcliffe BBC Sport columnist

For Keely Hodgkinson to win her first global gold medal at the World Championships would be really important in several ways.

Not least for her own confidence, proving to herself that she can do it after winning Olympic and world silver in the past two years.

The 21-year-old is someone who really thrives under pressure.

The flip side of winning in Budapest on Sunday (19:45 BST) is that it would add pressure on her shoulders going in to an Olympic year.

But I think that is something which can bring the best out of Hodgkinson.

The European champion has been really impressive this year, even down to the decision to miss the London Diamond League as a precaution because of illness.

It was a smart move. She just needed to make sure she felt 100% coming in to these championships.

That possibly made the nerves a little stronger going into the first round at the Worlds because she didn't have that race behind her.

But, so far, she has looked great and really in control in progressing to the final.

Where Hodgkinson is most impressive is that she clearly loves what she is doing and she is having fun - but at the same time she is completely in control.

She has shown a lot of maturity and is better at decision-making and the tactical side of racing than athletes a lot older than her.

And she eluded to the fact that she has been trying different tactics. That shows she has taken a step up, even from last year when she was second to Athing Mu in Eugene.

Now she is considering her strategy, what her rivals are thinking and whether she is giving away too much information - in addition to advancing safely to the final.

Reigning Olympic and world champion Mu and Commonwealth gold medallist Mary Moraa are expected to be her main rivals for gold.

If you contrast Hodgkinson with Mu, who is the same age, the American has the talent but she does not seem to enjoy the competition the same way.

You feel that, when it comes down to it, surely that hunger for something you really want could make the difference in the end.

There is very little to choose between them, especially after what happened in the semi-finals with Mu almost falling. She was very measured and calm as she got herself back in to the race, but we didn't really learn anything about her form, fitness or race tactics.

Most people expect Moraa to go out fast and use the tactics which earned her victory over Hodgkinson at the Commonwealth Games in 2022 and the Lausanne Diamond League in June.

But I think that would be underestimating the Briton, who will have learned from those past races.

Jenny Meadows, Hodgkinson's coach, said that after Lausanne she was really frustrated and made sure to learn from that for the next time.

It's obviously going to be a difficult race but ultimately she must pick the tactic that is right for her.

The tactics she would use to beat Mu and Moraa are completely different. She will have worked out the way she feels most comfortable with and most committed to - because that is the one she will be able to carry through to the end.

At the end of the day, if you're running one minute 55 seconds, you're going to be there either way - so it's about being able to get there in a way that allows you to finish as strongly as possible.

It is so good to see two British girls going into the world final in great shape.

Hodgkinson is obviously the favourite to make the podium but Jemma Reekie is looking good. It would be phenomenal if Britain could sneak two medals.

It was hugely impressive how Reekie got herself out of a mess in the semi-final. The 25-year-old has had a bumpy ride over recent years which has really knocked her confidence.

For her to drop to essentially last and then have the composure to find a way through like she did was very impressive. I think people who maybe did not predict her to get in the top four or five certainly are now.

She's certainly coming in under the radar - a bit like Katarina Johnson-Thompson in the heptathlon - and I think if any of the big three do make a mistake then she is going to be right there.

Any other year we would be saying Reekie has a medal shot. But it is such a high-quality final, with Hodgkinson, Mu and Moraa ready to battle for gold.

Paula Radcliffe was speaking to BBC Sport's Harry Poole.