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In the absence Caster Semenya: How the times have changed

In the absence of World and Olympic champion Semenya, the women’s 800 metres regressed in terms of timing.

Written by Nihal Koshie | New Delhi | Updated: October 4, 2019 8:40:15 am
Caster Semenya

The absence of Caster Semenya at this World Championship, the South African middle-distance superstar, saw a massive dip in the winning timing of the 800-metres event. Ugandan Halimah Nakkayi’s 1:58.04 was way slower than Semenya’s best of 1:54.25.

Nakkayi’s rise came as a surprise since the athlete had finished 19th in the World Championships two years ago. As for Semenya, who was tipped to break the world record, she was forced to opt out because of the new eligibility regulations, which put a cap on testosterone levels for women athletes.

America’s Ajee Wilson, the favourite in the absence of Semenya, had finished third in London two years ago but had to once again settle for bronze after she was overtaken by Nakaayi and America’s Raevyn Rogers on the home stretch. Wilson had won six of the eight races, including Diamond Leagues at Stockholm, Monaco, Birmingham and Brussels.

Wilson had struggled to top races when Semenya was around. Wilson’s wins in the Diamond League came after Semenya’s last appearance in the global series, incidentally at Doha this year, where the South African won the gold with a blistering 1:54.98 — her third fastest ever time which also brought up her 30th consecutive win.

In May, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) had upheld an International Association of Athletics Federations’s (IAAF) ruling which barred women with high levels of naturally occurring testosterone from competing in events between 400 metres and a mile without taking hormone-suppressing medication.

Semenya since has refused to take medication and has joined a South African women’s football team, Gauteng-based JVW FC, and hopes to get playing time from next season.

Big guns missing

Semenya was not the only elite athlete in the 800 metres who was forced to stay off. The impact of the IAAF rules called — ‘Eligibility Regulations for female classification (Athletes with differences of sexual development) — affected the three podium finishers at the Rio Olympics and the one-two from the London World Championships from two years.

Semenya, Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba and Kenya’s Margaret Wambui finished 1-2-3 in the Rio Olympics in 2016. Semenya and Niyonsaba were 1-2 at London. Like Semenya, both Niyonsaba and Wambui were ruled ineligible because of the testosterone cap imposed by IAAF’s eligibility regulations.

Niyonsaba and Wambui both made it clear that the new rules would affect them. “For me, it’s about discrimination. It doesn’t make sense. For sure, I didn’t choose to be born like this,” Niyonsaba told the Olympic Channel.

The regulations, she said, would make her change events, she added.

“I can even run the marathon. I will keep my passion. I love running, and I will not stop running.”

Wambui didn’t want to take medication to ensure she met the testosterone cap and be eligible to run 800 metres.

“Drugs is out for me. Other options like moving up to the long-distance or scaling down, I can consider, but drugs? No,” Wambui said in an interview to the Olympic Channel.

In May, CAS came down on the IAAF’s policy called ‘Eligibility Regulations’ for female classification by calling it ‘discriminatory’.

At the same time, in a shot in the arm for the IAAF, two of the three arbitrators accepted the IAAF’s argument that naturally-occurring but high levels of testosterone in women athletes can give them advantage in terms of strength — during training and also when it came to clocking timings.

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