Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya shaved 15 seconds off her 5,000m personal best on Thursday, winning the South African Athletics Championships in 15:52.28. While this was a good run for the 30-year-old, it is still 42.28 seconds off the Olympic qualifying standard of 15:10.00.
The Olympic gold medallist will be unable to defend her title this year in Tokyo because of a World Athletics rule change that bars athletes with Differences in Sexual Development (DSD) from competing in events from the 400m to the mile without taking testosterone-reducing medication. Semenya has refused to take any such medications, and so has had to change her focus event. In March 2019 she stated that she would attempt to qualify for the Olympics in the 200m, but according to the BBC, she has changed course, saying that it would be too hard on her body.
“I’m getting old‚ I’m scared to tear my muscles,” she said. “We had to sit down and make sure that the decision that we make makes sense. Distance makes sense.”
This race comes after two failed legal bids by Semenya to have the ban on DSD athletes overturned. She has since taken her situation to the European Court of Human Rights, but the case has yet to be heard. Until then, the athlete will have to continue competing in the longer distance if she hopes to return to the Olympic stage. According to South African news outlet, The Nation, Semenya is happy with her result on Thursday, despite not getting the Olympic standard.
“I am pretty happy with how I ran (today) – it is all about having fun,” she said. “I can’t really focus on Tokyo if I’m still building up myself at the moment.”
She also noted that this race was run at an altitude of 1,339m, and she is hoping to race at sea level in the coming months, where she is likely to run faster. The qualifying deadline for Tokyo is June 29, so Semenya has a little over 10 weeks to run below the standard.