‘Distance makes sense:’ Semenya pins Olympic hopes on 5,000

Sports
Caster Semenya

South African long distance athlete Caster Semenya on her way to winning the 5,000 meters at the South African national championships in Pretoria, South Africa, Thursday, April 15, 2021. Semenya said she’s likely to focus on long-distance events for the rest of her career. (AP Photo/Christiaan Kotze)

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Caster Semenya won the 5,000-meter race at the South African national championships on Thursday in a personal-best time and then said she’s likely to focus on long-distance events for the rest of her career.

That could be her best hope of running at this year’s Tokyo Olympics after being barred from defending her 800-meter title.

The two-time Olympic champion won the 5,000 in 15 minutes, 52.28 seconds at Tuks Athletics Stadium at the University of Pretoria. That was outside the Olympic qualifying standard of 15:10.00 but Semenya has until the end of June to qualify for Tokyo.

Although the nationals are South Africa’s main trials for the Olympics, athletes only need to register a qualifying time once at any recognized meet before the June 29 cutoff.

It’s still a long shot for the 800-meter specialist, but Semenya’s time on Thursday was more than 22 seconds faster than her last outing in the 5,000.

Semenya’s participation in the event at the nationals was confirmed the day before the meet started and is a departure from her previous plans after announcing last year that she would attempt to qualify for the Tokyo Games in the 200 meters.

“We had to look into‚ can we do 200 for the next five years? It was not really in our favor,” the 30-year-old Semenya said Thursday. “I’m getting old‚ I’m scared to tear my muscles. We had to sit down and make sure that the decision that we make makes sense. Distance makes sense.”

Semenya is barred from running in events from 400 meters to one mile at top track meets under World Athletics’ testosterone rules. She has refused to bow to those rules and take medication to lower her natural testosterone levels, calling the regulations unfair and discriminatory.

She can now only run in the 100 and 200 meters, or in long-distance races. All of those events are unfamiliar to her.

Semenya also hasn’t given up on getting the rules overturned in court. She said in February she was challenging the testosterone policy at the European Court of Human Rights in her third legal appeal against them. Semenya has previously lost court cases against World Athletics at the Court of Arbitration for Sport and at the Swiss supreme court. No date has been set for her case at the human rights court but it’s highly unlikely it would be heard before the Tokyo Games open on July 23.

Semenya’s story has been one of sport’s most contentious since she arrived as an unknown teenager and won the 2009 world title in the 800 in a blisteringly fast time.

It was then announced she had undergone sex verification tests during those championships and her career has been submerged in a complex argument over sex and gender since.

Semenya was assigned female at birth and has identified as female her whole life. But World Athletics argued in court that she is “biologically male” with the typical male XY chromosome pattern, and her testosterone level is higher than the typical female range. That gives her an unfair advantage over other female runners, the track and field body says. World Athletics said it would allow Semenya to run in female competitions if she reduces her testosterone level through medical intervention.

Semenya has refused to do that, insisting she is female and her high natural testosterone is merely a genetic gift.

Semenya is believed to have one of a number of conditions known as differences of sex development, sometimes known as intersex. Details of her exact condition have never been released.

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