Predictable, yet impressive, Semenya wins Olympic 800 gold

By GERALD IMRAY 21 August 2016, 12:00AM

It was predicted. That didn't make it any less impressive, or any less contentious.

Caster Semenya won the Olympic title in the 800 meters Saturday with no one close to challenging her, a result that will only stoke the complex debate over whether women with much higher levels of testosterone than normal should be allowed to compete unchecked.

Semenya of South Africa won her first Olympic gold in a personal-best of 1 minute, 55.28 seconds, a national record and one of the top 20 times ever in the two-lap race.

"It was just a fantastic race," she said.

Burundi's Francine Niyonsaba took silver over a second behind the dominant Semenya, with Kenya's Margaret Wambui collecting the bronze for an all-African podium. Wambui also ran a personal best.

In her style, Semenya sat back behind leader Niyonsaba until the final 150 meters, then unleashed a powerful burst from out of the curve to pull away down the straightaway, leaving her competitors trailing and fighting for silver.

Such is Semenya's dominance this year — she ran her previous personal best last month — it was exactly how everyone thought it would go.

"The coach told me to be patient, wait for the right moment," Semenya said. "Obviously we know we're quicker the last 200. We just have to utilize it."

Since her arrival in track and field in 2009, when she won the world title as an 18-year-old newcomer, Semenya has been the unwilling face of one of the most complicated and sensitive debates for the sport. Do women who have much higher levels of natural testosterone than normal have an advantage over other women in athletics, and if so, is it unfair?

Semenya's breakthrough world title seven years ago pushed the IAAF to introduce rules limiting testosterone in female athletes. Semenya is believed to be one of a number of female athletes to compete at the Rio Olympics with very high testosterone — caused by a condition called hyperandrogenism.

But under a legal challenge, the IAAF was forced to drop the testosterone-limiting rules last year. Many believe that left Semenya, and others, free to run again with their very high naturally-occurring testosterone levels.

Many also believe it left Semenya, an outstanding athlete, unbeatable.

Semenya, who appeared barely out of breath at the finish, popped a South African flag onto her shoulders and took a leisurely jog around the stadium to celebrate her first major title since her world championships gold in 2009 was completely overshadowed by a sex-test scandal. In Rio, She ran the fastest time over two laps by any woman anywhere for eight years.

"The race was a little bit quick, the first 400 we were pushing ourselves, it was great," she said. "It was just about being patient and do what you do best."

After silvers at the 2011 world championships and 2012 Olympics, Semenya was such a heavy favorite to win the 800 title in Rio de Janeiro that some of the other women competing in the earlier qualifying races said that they just couldn't keep up with her. Others refused to talk about the testosterone issue.

Canada's Melissa Bishop, who finished fourth, also for a national record, told reporters after the final that she would not answer any questions related to testosterone.

"This racing is all going to come down to the best 50 meters, so much opens up down there," Bishop said. "It was to be expected that everybody would be there. I just didn't get there with them."

Semenya didn't come close after all to breaking the 33-year-old world record of Jarmila Kratochvilova — a long-standing mark some predicted was in Semenya's sights — but she was never in trouble in the race.


By GERALD IMRAY 21 August 2016, 12:00AM

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