CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — That could be the case for Caster Semenya and the Olympics.
Forced out of her favorite race by World Athletics testosterone rules, the two-time Olympic 800m champion made a belated attempt to qualify for Tokyo in 5,000 meters, an event not affected by hormonal regulation. She came up short.
Now 30, Semenya’s hopes of returning to the Olympics are dwindling.
The South African once said she wanted to race in the best track events until she was 40. Now his future ambitions hinge on a final, long-term legal appeal of the testosterone rules or turning the world’s dominant middle-distance runner into a success. long distance athlete. It will be hard for her.
Semenya is perhaps the most controversial athlete in athletics over the past decade. If there are no more appearances on the biggest stage, it’s a career like no other. In 12 years at the top, Semenya has won two Olympic gold medals and three world championship titles, but her success has come amid near-constant interference from track authorities. She only competed without restrictions of one kind or another for three of those 12 years.
WHY CAN’T SEMENYA DEFEND HER 800 TITLE IN TOKYO?
In 2018, athletics’ world governing body introduced rules it said targeted female athletes with conditions called differences in sex development, or DSD. The key for World Athletics is that these athletes have higher testosterone levels than typical women. The track body argues this gives them an unfair advantage. Semenya is the most high-profile athlete affected by the regulations, but not the only one.
The rules require Semenya to artificially lower her testosterone levels — either by taking birth control pills daily, having hormone-blocking injections or undergoing surgery — to be allowed to run in 400-meter to one-mile races. Semenya simply refused to do so, pointing out the irony that in a sport where doping is such a scourge, the authorities want her to do drugs so she can run in the Olympics.
“Why am I going to take drugs? Semenya said in 2019. “I am a pure athlete. I don’t cheat. They should focus on doping, not us.
BUT SHE CAN RUN THE 5,000?
Yes. Strangely, World Athletics decided to only enforce testosterone rules for 400m to one-mile track events, raising criticism from Semenya’s camp that the regulations were specifically designed to target her due to her dominance. .
This means that Semenya can participate in 100 and 200 meter and long distance races without lowering her testosterone levels. Field events are also unregulated. After a brief run in the 200 meters, Semenya tried to qualify for Tokyo in the 5,000 meters, running races in Pretoria and Durban in South Africa and, most recently, at international meets in Germany and Belgium last month. . She never came within 20 seconds of the Olympic qualifying mark.
THE COURT BATTLE
Semenya continues to fight testosterone regulations in court. She has launched three legal challenges against the rules, calling them unfair and discriminatory, and seems determined to see her legal battle through to the end. Having failed on appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the Swiss Supreme Court, Semenya has now appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.
Semenya’s first appeal to sport’s highest court revealed an uphill battle between her and track authorities, centering on World Athletics’ assertion during the closed-door hearing that she was ‘biologically male’ . Semenya angrily refuted this, having been identified as female at birth and having identified as female all her life. She called the claim “deeply hurtful”.
OTHER AFFECTED ATHLETES
The problem will not go away with Semenya. Just this week, two 18-year-old Namibian female athletes were banned from competing in the 400 meters at the Tokyo Olympics after undergoing medical tests and finding they had high levels of natural testosterone. One of them, Christine Mboma, is the under-20 world record holder.
The two runners who finished second and third behind Semenya at the 2016 Olympics, Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and Margaret Wambui of Kenya, have publicly stated that they are also affected by testosterone regulations and have also been banned of 800, unless they undergo a medical examination. intervention. Niyonsaba qualified for the Olympics in the 5,000 meters.
Semenya has been clear that the rules won’t force her to slip up and that she will continue to run and enjoy the sport, even if she can’t attend the biggest events.
“Now it’s about having fun,” she said when meeting in South Africa in April. “We achieved everything we wanted‚ all the major titles‚ inspiring young people.”
“For me, it’s not about being at the Olympics,” she said. “It’s about being healthy and running good times and being on the field the longest.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.