Olympics: Semenya blocking out critics, strength in semis confirms she's 800m favourite

South Africa's Caster Semenya (right) competes in the women's 800m semi-final during the athletics event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on Aug 18, 2016.
South Africa's Caster Semenya (right) competes in the women's 800m semi-final during the athletics event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on Aug 18, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - South Africa's Caster Semenya said on Thursday that she has blocked out the controversy surrounding her bid for Olympic gold after powering into the 800m final.

The 25-year-old continues to divide opinion in the athletics world because of her condition, hyperandrogenism, which causes elevated testosterone levels.

Some rivals have called for the authorities to revisit rules aimed at setting limits for testosterone, claiming Semenya's rare physiology gives her an unfair advantage.

But a sports court last year tossed out an International Association of Athletics Federations rule aimed at curbing her advantage, allowing her to dominate her event.

It has left Semenya the heavy favourite to take gold in Rio, a victory certain to cause controversy in some quarters.

She, however, shrugged off the controversy on Thursday after producing a late surge over the final 200 metres to advance from the third semi-final race in 1min 58.15sec at the Olympic Stadium, ahead of Britain's Lynsey Sharp.

"I'm not focused on people, just on my race," Semenya replied when asked about her critics.

"At the end of the day it's not about people, it's about you - it's you up against the world."

Her form this year has fuelled speculation that Jarmila Kratochvilova's 33-year-old world record could be in jeopardy at Saturday's final.

However, Semenya said that she is not thinking about a new world best.

"I'm not focusing on the world record. The focus is to go home with the gold medal," she said.

In the second semi-final on Thursday, Poland's Joanna Jozwik won in 1:58.93 ahead of 2015 World Championships silver medallist Melissa Bishop of Canada, second in 1:59.05.

Kenya's Margaret Wambui and Burundi's Francine Niyonsaba grabbed the automatic qualifying spots from the first semi.

Thanks to Semenya's fast pace, American Kate Grace and world champion Marina Arzamasova from Belarus went through as the two fastest losers.

"It was a bit tough but I told myself to put in a bit more effort than yesterday and I just relaxed," said Wambui.

"I wanted to make sure I was in a position to qualify for the final," the Kenyan added.