Home > Runs & Races

Francine Niyonsaba runs 5,000m debut, finishes just off Olympic standard in 15:12.08

Barred from competing in the 800m, Francine Niyonsaba jumped up in distance and nearly qualified for the Olympics

Photo by: Instagram/niyo93

World and Olympic 800m silver medallist Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi raced a 5,000m in Spain on May 22, and she finished with a national record of 15:12.08. Niyonsaba’s result was just off the Olympic standard of 15:10.00, and it was her first official race over 5,000m. Like South Africa’s Caster Semenya, Niyonsaba is an athlete with DSD (differences of sexual development), and a 2019 World Athletics ruling prevents her from competing in any events from 400m up to the mile. 

Niyonsaba, Semenya and other DSD athletes (who have higher-than-usual rates of testosterone) had to make a tough decision when WA barred them from competing in certain events. They could take hormone-suppressing drugs to lower their testosterone levels, drop down in distance to compete in sprinting events like the 100m and 200m or jump up to races longer than a mile. Refusing to take any hormone suppressants, Semenya has spent the past couple of seasons testing out both ends of the racing spectrum, running races as short as 200m and as long as 5,000m. 

RELATED: 800m Olympic silver medallist hopes to race 5,000m at Tokyo Olympics

Semenya has made progress in both arenas, but her PBs of 23.49 seconds in the 200m and 15:52.28 in the 5,000m are well off the Olympic standards of 22.80 and 15:10.00. Niyonsaba, however, has set her sights solely on the 5,000m, and her undivided focus on the longer race seems to have paid off, as she is now just a couple of seconds away from qualifying for the Tokyo Games. 

Niyonsaba announced her plans to compete in the 5,000m in February, and she now has a little over a month to lower her PB by a couple of seconds in order to qualify for the Summer Games. (The Olympic qualifying window closes on June 29.) After the race, Niyonsaba took to social media to express her excitement in the run, writing, “So happy to be back in international competition with a great debut of 15:12 in the 5K..it was a big challenge but I faced it with great determination and perseverance.” 

RELATED: Caster Semenya wins 5,000m in South Africa