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Melissa Bishop wins her opening qualifying 800m race at the Summer Olympics in Rio

By Scott Stinson, Anthony Dixon, QMIAgency

Canada's Melissa Bishop (R) competes in the Women's 800m Round 1 during the athletics event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 17, 2016.

Canada's Melissa Bishop (R) competes in the Women's 800m Round 1 during the athletics event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 17, 2016.

RIO DE JANEIRO — Canada's Melissa Bishop made it through to the semifinals of the women's 800 metres with what was the fastest qualifying time of a strong field — and on a very fast track.

Bishop, 27, from Eganville, Ont., was in the middle of the pack after a lap but moved into an inside position, stride-for-stride with Marina Arzamasova of Belarus, who edged Bishop for the gold medal at the world championships in Beijing last summer. The pair outraced the rest of their heat in the closing lap, with Bishop finishing just in front in a time of 1:58:38.

She moves on to the semifinal round on Thursday, Aug. 18. The racing is scheduled to begin at 8:15 p.m.

"I think we'll be good," said Bishop of the preparation between today and the semifinal races on Friday morning. The final goes Saturday night. "We have a really good team with Athletics Canada so, yeah, I think we'll be good."

Sixteen of the 24 qualifiers for the 800-metre semis ran below two minutes on a hot, sunny morning at Olympic Stadium.

"All the heats are very strong, from the first heat there have been crazy results," said Natallia Lupu of Ukraine. "As far as I can remember, this never happened in 800-metres before that the athletes would run so fast from the first lap." Lupu qualified 14th at 1:59:91

Caster Semenya, the silver medallist from London 2012 in the 800, qualified sixth at 1:59:31.

"It wasn't easy. It was pretty hot," she said. "I just tried to hang on and tried to feel my body first so I was comfortable, I tried to just get in the top two and tried to win so I would be safe for the semifinals."

Mariya Savinova, the gold medallist in London, is not competing at Rio 2016. She is one of the athletes at the centre of the Russian doping scandal that began with a German TV documentary two years ago.

Bishop said after her race that she was pleased that her coach, Dennis Fairall, who is suffering from a degenerative condition called progressive supranuclear palsy, was able to come to Brazil to see her race.

"I am a product of Dennis Fairall," Bishop said. "He's a huge support system for me, I lean on him for everything. Everything I do here is a true testament to Dennis."

Bishop, the silver medallist at the worlds last year, became the first Canadian women to break 1:58 at a meet last year. She broke her own Canadian record last month with a time of 1:57:43 at the national championships in Edmonton.

sstinson@postmedia.com

Here are the top 6 times recorded during the eight heat races run Wednesday morning, Aug. 17. A total of 24 runners have qualified for the semifinals.

Name Country Time
Melissa Bishop Canada 1:58.38
Maryna Arzamasava Belarus 1:58.44
Habitam Alemu Ethiopia 1:58.99
Selina Buchel Switzerland 1:59.00
Noelie Yarigo Benin 1:59.12
Caster Semenya South Africa 1:59.31