After being temporarily barred by the Swiss Supreme Court from running in her favorite event, the 800 metres, Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya faces a murky future with a much tougher road ahead if she is to retain her position among the best in the world. top female athletes.
The decision bars Semenya, of South Africa, from international races between 400 meters and one mile until his case is resolved once and for all by Switzerland’s highest court. These distances, which combine speed and endurance, are the races in which athletes with testosterone in the male range, like Semenya, have an unfair advantage in terms of muscle strength and oxygen-carrying capacity, the body believes. track leader. They are also among the most publicized events of the Olympic Games and World Championships, the most important competitions for sport.
Semenya announced plans to try the 3,000 meters after losing a first decision in May. But this event is not run at the world championships or the Olympics.
Semenya, 28, ran a 5,000 meter race in a personal best time of 16:05 in April, but that time is well below the qualifying standard of 15:22 that would even be required to compete in the event at the world championships this fall. in Qatar. She should also be among the best runners at this distance in South Africa.
The IAAF said on Wednesday that he was welcoming Tuesday’s court decision. “The IAAF will maintain its position that there are certain contexts, sport being one of them, where biology must trump gender identity,” he said.
The Swiss court said it overturned because Semenya’s appeal “does not appear with a high probability of being well-founded”. He said he was bound by the May finding of the Court of Arbitration for Sport that Semenya’s intersex condition, known as 46XYDSD, “has a direct impact on sports performance, which could never be achieved. by other women.
Semenya has identified as a woman all her life. She said the questions about her gender were unfair. She called an earlier decision against her “discriminatory, irrational, unjustifiable”. Some scientists and doctors have criticized the IAAF’s methods and focused on testosterone as too narrow and simplistic, noting that women also produce the hormone and high levels of it do not guarantee athletic success. All world-class athletes have physical advantages, they claim, such as the height of basketball players and the long arms of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps.
Semenya said she has many alternatives to 800.
“There are a lot of races I can do. I am a talented athlete. I can play football, I can play basketball, I can do anything. I can run 100, I can run 200, I can run steeple, I can do whatever I want,” she told Reuters in May.
Runners in longer events also tend to have lighter numbers than middle-distance runners like Semenya. While runners with various body types have been successful at different distances through training, Semenya should probably try to change her physique and add significant endurance to tackle longer runs.
If she decides to go shorter, her best time in the 200m is 24.26 in February, but that’s also outside the world championship standard of 23.02, and about two seconds slower than the best runners.
She would be eligible to run unrestricted in longer events like the 10,000m and marathon, but according to the IAAF she has never raced these events, nor the steeplechase, which involves jumping over barriers and through a water hazard, in any significant competition.
The latest court ruling continues a back-and-forth trend in the Semenya case. In May, the Court of Arbitration for Sport backed the athletics federation’s rules, saying they were discriminatory but necessary to achieve a level playing field in women’s athletics. Semenya appealed to the Swiss Supreme Court, also known as the Swiss Federal Tribunal. In June, that court temporarily suspended IAAF rules and said Semenya could race while he considered his case. On Tuesday, the court reversed and ruled Semenya could not compete as he considered his broader challenge to the testosterone rules. Semenya vowed to pursue the appeal.
If future decisions go her way, Semenya could still earn the right to run the 800 meters at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Olympic rosters are usually not compiled until weeks before the Games.
But if the rules of testosterone are followed, Semenya’s choices are relatively few. The IAAF said she could run the 800 and other restricted events at national races in South Africa, could compete against men or compete in races for intersex athletes if such events were offered.
The IAAF has said female athletes with testosterone levels above the legal limit can compete in women’s 400-meter one-mile events if they are on hormone therapy. Semenya categorically refused to do so. If she were to change her mind, sports scientists estimated it could cost her four to seven seconds in the 800m, an event she hasn’t lost since 2015.
On Tuesday, Semenya tweeted a message saying “The first chapter of my life is over, I’m looking forward to my second chapter.” She followed up on Wednesday with optimistic messages, including “Don’t go through life, grow through life” and a proclamation that “a determined spirit is unstoppable.”