Caster Semenya won the 5,000-meter race at the South African national championships on Thursday with a personal best, then said she would likely focus on long-distance events for the rest of her career.
It could be her best hope to make it to the Tokyo Olympics this year after being barred from defending her 800-meter title.
The two-time Olympic champion won the 5,000 in 15 minutes and 52.28 seconds at the University of Pretoria’s Tuks Athletics Stadium. It was outside the Olympic qualifying standard of 3:10 p.m. but Semenya has until the end of June to qualify for Tokyo.
Although the National Championships are South Africa’s main trials for the Olympics, athletes only need to record a qualifying time once at a recognized competition before the deadline of 29 June.
It’s still a long way off for the 800m specialist, but Semenya’s time on Thursday was over 22 seconds faster than her last outing in the 5,000m.
Semenya’s participation in the event at the national championships was confirmed the day before the competition started and deviates from her earlier plans after announcing last year that she would attempt to qualify for the Tokyo Games in 200. meters.
“We had to look at whether we could do 200 for the next five years? It wasn’t really in our favor,” Semenya, 30, said Thursday. “I’m getting older, I’m afraid of tearing my muscles. We had to sit down and make sure the decision we made made sense. The distance made sense.”
Semenya is not permitted to run in 400 meter to one mile events in track competitions under World Athletics Testosterone Rules. She refused to abide by these rules and take medication to lower her natural testosterone levels, calling the regulations unfair and discriminatory.
She can now only run 100 and 200 meters, or long distance races. All these events are unknown to him.
Semenya has also not given up on overturning the rules in court. She said in February that she was challenging the testosterone policy in the European Court of Human Rights in her third legal action against them. Semenya has already lost cases against World Athletics before the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the Swiss Supreme Court. No date has been set for her case in the human rights tribunal, but it is highly unlikely that she will be heard before the Tokyo Games open on July 23.
Semenya’s story has been one of the most controversial in the sport since arriving as an unknown teenager and winning the 2009 800 world title in extremely quick time.
It was later announced that she had undergone sex verification tests at those championships and her career has since been embroiled in a complicated sex and gender dispute.
Semenya was assigned female at birth and identified as female her entire life. But World Athletics argued in court that she was “biologically male” with the typical male XY chromosome pattern and that her testosterone level was higher than that of women. This gives her an unfair advantage over other runners, according to the athletic organization. World Athletics said it would allow Semenya to compete in women’s competitions if she reduced her testosterone level through medical intervention.
Semenya refused to do so, insisting that she is female and that her high natural testosterone levels are just a genetic gift.
Semenya is believed to have one of many conditions known as differences in sexual development, sometimes referred to as intersex. Details of his exact condition were never disclosed.