NEW YORK (AP) — Defending 800-metre champion Caster Semenya has dominated her event like no other female athlete in track over the past 10 years, winning two Olympic golds and three world championships.
A world title will be handed out tonight without Semenya, still in her prime and still the favourite to win every race she enters.
The 28-year-old South African is missing the world championships in Qatar as she fights the International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) latest version of a regulation that forces XY DSD women to lower their level of natural testosterone.
Even many competitors say the prestige of the race is lowered without Semenya.
Madeleine Pape of Australia competed in the 800 against Semenya at the 2009 World Championships. After an 18-year-old Semenya won the world title, the IAAF kept her sidelined for nearly a year for “gender verification” tests.
Pape wondered about Semenya’s fast times and physique, but now realises testosterone is not the only factor that makes a champion.
“The playing field is never level,” she said. “There will always be standout performers and athletes who struggle to be competitive. The exclusion of Semenya instead gives us an incomplete event. The IAAF is being motivated by their fears and assumptions about XY women with high testosterone.”
Semenya is joined on the sideline by 800 Olympic silver medalist Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi.
“The top two seeds before worlds aren’t here. It definitely opens things up,” said Ajee Wilson, the US runner who is the strongest contender for the gold.
Wilson finished second to Semenya at the Prefontaine Classic on June 30. That’s when Semenya was temporarily allowed to race this summer. Afterward Wilson said, “everybody should be allowed to participate” and Semenya “should be able to do what she loves.”
IAAF President Sebastian Coe, recently re-elected to another four-year term, said the regulations are necessary and weren’t meant to exclude people.
“When you’re the best in the world, people become obsessed,” Semenya told The Guardian. “We’re all different.”