Home > Runs & Races

Francine Niyonsaba smashes Olympic standard in second-career 5,000m race

Just a week after running her 5,000m debut, the Olympic 800m silver medallist ran an amazing 14:54.38 in France

Photo by: Instagram/niyo93

In just the second 5,000m race of her career, Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba smashed the Olympic standard of 15:10.00, running to a 14:54.38 finish at the Meeting de Montreuil in France. With the result, she has likely booked her ticket to the Tokyo Games, as she is the only Burundian athlete to have hit 5,000m standard so far this qualifying period. Niyonsaba is an athlete with DSD (differences of sexual development), and although she is an Olympic 800m silver medallist, a recent World Athletics (WA) rule change bars her from competing in anything from the 400m up to the mile due to her naturally high levels of testosterone. 


Niyonsaba isn’t the only DSD athlete who has been looking to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics in the 5,000m. South Africa’s Caster Semenya, the woman who beat Niyonsaba for the gold at the Rio Olympics in the 800m, has also been working toward 5,000m standard, although she has been much less successful than her Burundian competitor. 

RELATED: Caster Semenya runs PB, misses 5,000m Olympic standard by 22 seconds in South Africa

Semenya raced a 5,000m in South Africa on May 28, and while she ran a big PB of 15:32.15, she was still 22 seconds off Olympic standard. Niyonsaba has only raced the 5,000m twice, but she broke the Burundian national record on both occasions. 

In addition to giving DSD athletes like Niyonsaba and Semenya the choice to run races shorter than 400m or longer than the mile, WA also said these individuals could take medications to lower their testosterone levels. Neither Niyonsaba nor Semenya chose that route, which is why they’re pursuing longer events. 


At the Meeting de Montreuil, Niyonsaba’s inexperience at the distance didn’t show at all, and she ended up in fourth place. Kenya’s Beatrice Chebet won the race in 14:52.06, which smashed the meet record of 15:08.74. In fact, the top seven women in the race beat the previous meet record. Niyonsaba’s time is also the 11th-fastest 5,000m result so far in 2021. 

RELATED: The Dirty Stuff: Why the women’s 800m is so difficult to assess

As for Semenya, less than a month remains before the Olympic qualifying window closes. She will need to improve by at least 22 seconds to have a shot at making it to the Tokyo Games, and while that’s a lot of time to shave off her PB, Niyonsaba has shown that it’s certainly possible to make big gains in a short period of time.