Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Semenya storms into 800m semi-finals

South Africa’s Caster Semenya sailed into the semi-finals of the 800m on Wednesday to remain on track for a gold medal almost certain to divide opinion.The 25-year-old is the overwhelming favourite to add an Olympic gold in Rio to the silver she won
in London four years ago, with a 2016 time that is nearly a second faster than her closest rivals.

She bided her time in Wednesday’s heats, smoothly accelerating through the field in the final 200m to win in 1min 59.31sec, around four seconds slower than her season best of 1:55.33.

Afterwards Semenya distanced herself from speculation that she could be poised to break the oldest record in women’s track and field — Jarmila Kratochvilova’s 33-year-old world best of 1:53.28.

“I am not focused on any world records, I am focused on enjoying my championship and it’s going to be a tough 800,” Semenya said.

“Times don’t matter but medals matter. I just want to run my own race and so far it’s been very good.”

Semenya has been at the centre of a raging controversy in recent years because of her naturally occurring condition, hyperandrogenism, which causes elevated testosterone levels.

Some of Semenya’s fellow 800m runners on Wednesday indicated, when pressed, that they wanted authorities to revisit rules that limit the amount of testosterone allowed in competitors.

“I don’t know a whole lot about it, but it’s probably something that needs to be revised after this,” said Ireland’s Ciara Everard, who failed to reach the semi-finals.

“I don’t think the consensus about it has been positive so maybe they’ll look to revise it. It’s a very sensitive issue and it needs to be dealt with sensitively.”

US runner Ajee Wilson, who finished second in Semenya’s heat, echoed Everard’s sentiments, albeit hesitantly.

“Honestly I haven’t thought about it,” Wilson replied when asked about Semenya’s eligibility, before adding: “It is something that should be revisited, it’s a lot of commotion, a lot of talk. I dunno.”

– Teenage prodigy –

Semenya exploded onto the global athletics scene in 2009, winning gold at the World Championships in Berlin as an 18-year-old prodigy.

However her muscular appearance immediately raised suspicions, and a furore erupted when it emerged the teenager had been ordered to undergo a test to determine whether she was a woman.

Partially in response to complaints from rival runners and coaches that the condition gave her an unfair advantage, world athletics chiefs implemented restrictions on testosterone levels in 2011.

Following the introduction of those rules, Semenya’s times slipped, with many assuming she was taking medication to control her testosterone production.

Even so, Semenya was still good enough to claim silver in the 2012 Olympics, denied gold by a Russian runner, Mariya Savinova, who was later exposed as a drug cheat.

But a Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling last year judged the International Association of Athletics Federations restrictions illegal, freeing Semenya to compete in her natural state.

Since then Semenya has been head and shoulders above her rivals and is almost a full second quicker than anyone else this season.

Yet if she breaks the world record in Rio, it is likely to be only the latest staging post in the saga of her career.

The IAAF has hinted that it may appeal the CAS ruling on hyperandrogenism.


Credits: PUNCH

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