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Caster Semenya finishes well off Olympic standard in 5,000m race

The two-time Olympic 800m champion ran to second place in 16:14.43

Photo by: Karim JAAFAR/AFP

South Africa’s Caster Semenya ran just the second 5,000m of her racing career on Saturday, finishing in second place at the AGN Championships in Pretoria. The multiple world and Olympic 800m champion finished in 16:14.43, finishing far back of the race winner and well off the Olympic standard of 15:10.00. She owns a 5,000m PB of 16:05.97 from 2019. 

Semenya has DSD (differences of sexual development), and after a 2019 World Athletics ruling, athletes with DSD aren’t allowed to compete in events from the 400m up to the mile. Semenya has challenged this ruling many times, taking it to several courts, but she has been unsuccessful in her attempts to have it overturned. (Semenya is currently waiting on an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights, which is likely her last chance to get the ruling changed.) 

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One way Semenya could continue to compete in the 800m would be to take medications to lower her testosterone levels, but she has refused to do so. This leaves her with one option: to compete outside of that banned zone from the 400m up to mile, meaning she has to drop to the 200m or jump to the 5,000m if she wants to race at the Olympics again. 

Last year, Semenya entered several sprinting races ahead of the pandemic. She won each of them (even setting the South African 300m record in 36.78) and eventually lowered her 200m PB to 23.49 seconds, still more than half a second off the Olympic standard of 22.80. 

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Despite the large jump required to qualify for the Olympics, Semenya remained confident, and last May she said she planned to stick with the 200m “no matter what.” Now, with just a few months to go until the Tokyo Games, she seems to have reconsidered, although it doesn’t look like the 5,000m standard will be any easier to reach before the summer.