Caster Semenya reveals a change in focus

Caster Semenya runs the anchor leg in the women's 4x400m relay the 2019 Sizwe Medical Fund & 3SixtyLife ASA Senior Track & Field and Combined Events Championships at Germiston Athletics Stadium in April.
Caster Semenya runs the anchor leg in the women's 4x400m relay the 2019 Sizwe Medical Fund & 3SixtyLife ASA Senior Track & Field and Combined Events Championships at Germiston Athletics Stadium in April.
Image: Roger Sedres/Gallo Images

Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya confirmed she would focus on the 200m “no matter what” after winning the Gauteng North 200m title in Pretoria on Friday night.

She clocked a 23.49 second personal best to move closer to the 22.80 qualifying time she needs to book her spot to the Tokyo 2020 Games.

Semenya, refusing to take testosterone-lowering medication, is forbidden from competing over any distance from 400m to the mile, forcing her to find a new event.

“My dream has always been, and will continue to be, to compete at the highest level of sport, and so in order to pursue my goals and dreams, I have decided to change events and compete in the 200m,” she said in a statement.

“This decision has not been an easy one, but as always, I look forward to the challenge and will work hard doing all I can to qualify for Tokyo and compete to the best of my ability for South Africa.”

She said said after her final at the University of Pretoria Stadium that she believed, as she improved the technical aspects demanded by the 200m, she could make the cut for the Olympics.

“It’s possible, man. I call myself super natural so I can do anything I want … It’s all about putting in the hard work.

“I’m a power athlete. I can do anything from 100 to, I’d say, marathon. I do have power and speed which has helped me to run a 800, but obviously from young I’ve done 200m.

“It has always been easy for me to do that strength, I was born with strength. But with conditions that I had in Limpopo I didn’t have a coach so I had to choose to move to middle distance … .

“I wish I had been doing 200m from age 12 – I don’t where I would have been now.”

But Semenya is looking ahead to the national championships, where she is eyeing the 200m crown.

If successful, she would be the first athlete to have won SA titles at every distance from 200m to 5,000m.

But potentially standing in her way are Justine Palframan, with a best of 22.83, and Tamzin Thomas (23.12). Last season, however, the fastest they managed was 23.61 and 23.64 respectively.

The Swiss federal court has yet to hand down judgment on Semenya’s appeal against the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s decision to allow World Athletics’ new rules for female eligibility.

But even if Semenya were to succeed, it’s unlikely she will change events. “That’s decided, we stick to 200 no matter what. We don’t care about any other decision-making,” she said.

The athlete, pointing out that doing the sprint would assist her fledgling football career, also explained that qualifying for the Olympics wasn’t her main motivation.

“Even if we don’t qualify for Olympics, it does not matter. What matters is we’re on the track. We are there so that’s the goal. You’ll see a lot of me. That’s a promise.”

Should she improve enough to excel over 200m on the international stage she will cause World Athletics another headache.

Having finally pushed her out of the middle distance, the governing body might feel obliged to take her on in the sprint as well.

But it was World Athletics, previously known as the IAAF, that had targeted Semenya’s events in the female eligibility rules, omitting the 100m and 200m.


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