Semenya skips 800m, runs and wins 5,000m instead

Double 800m Olympic champion Caster Semenya leading the pack in the 5,000m race at the South African Championships on Thursday.
Double 800m Olympic champion Caster Semenya leading the pack in the 5,000m race at the South African Championships on Thursday. PHOTO: REUTERS

DURBAN • Double 800m Olympic gold medallist Caster Semenya sprang a surprise at the South African Athletics Championships on Thursday, ditching her pet event and competing over 1,500m and 5,000m instead.

The longer event, which she won in a modest 16min 5.97sec, is of particular interest because it will not require her to medically lower her testosterone level.

Semenya is waiting for next week's outcome of her appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to halt the introduction of new regulations by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) that would require her to take medicine to limit her natural levels of testosterone.

While she later refused to discuss the upcoming landmark ruling which could seriously impact her career, Dominique Scott, the defending 5,000m champion whom she beat, was unsure if the 800m specialist could be a serious contender over the longer distance.

She said: "Honestly, I have no idea. Before today, I probably would have said no. It's hard to compare a 5,000m (race) at altitude to a 5,000m at sea level.

"But she's an amazing runner and I don't think there's any limit or ceiling on what she can do."

And Olympic men's 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk has backed Semenya's "fight for something beyond just track and field".

The South African world-record holder in the event had to abort his comeback from a knee injury that had sidelined him for 18 months due to the cold weather and a wet track, but took time out to lend his support.

He said: "She's fighting for women in sports, in society and I respect her for that.

"I will support her, and with the hard work and talent that she's been putting into the sport. With what she believes in and what she's dreaming for, I've got a lot of respect for her. I really hope and pray that everything just goes from strength to strength for her."

The IAAF wants female athletes with differences of sexual development, who run in events from 400m to a mile (1.6km), to reduce their blood testosterone level to below five nmol/L for six months before they can compete, saying they have an unfair advantage.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2019, with the headline 'Semenya skips 800m, runs and wins 5,000m instead'. Print Edition | Subscribe