Home > The Scene

Olympic medallist wants DSD athlete category for track and field events

Kenyan 800m runner Margaret Wambui hasn't competed since World Athletics barred DSD athletes from middle-distance events

Kenya’s Margaret Wambui recently said she believes World Athletics (WA) should introduce a new category to track races specifically for athletes like her with differences of sexual development (DSD). Wambui won bronze in the 800m at the Rio Olympics, but a WA ruling that took effect in 2019 prevents her and any other DSD athletes from competing in events from the 400m up to the mile due to their abnormally high, but natural, testosterone levels. This ruling allows DSD athletes to compete outside of that middle-distance umbrella, but Wambui has not raced since WA enacted it. 

In addition to being allowed to run in races shorter than 400m or longer than the mile, DSD athletes have the option to take medications to lower their testosterone levels to what WA considers to be “fair.” Wambui recently told BBC Sport Africa that she has never considered taking that route. This means she will not be able to race the 800m for the rest of her elite career  — unless WA makes a change. 

RELATED: Francine Niyonsaba runs 10,000m Olympic standard at Ethiopian Trials

“It would be good if a third category for athletes with high testosterone was introduced, because it is wrong to stop people from using their talents,” Wambui said in the BBC interview. “We would be the first people to compete in that category, so we can motivate others who are hiding their condition. We could show them that it is not their fault, that this is how they were created and that they’ve done nothing wrong.” According to the BBC, WA has said there are no plans to create a third category for track events. 

“It should be noted that athletes with this condition make up 0.7 per cent of the elite female athlete population, so a third category may not be viable in many events,” said a WA said in a statement sent to the BBC.

Wambui, who is just 25 years old, has only competed at the Olympics once, and although she would have been a favourite to medal in the 800m once again in Tokyo, she is not going to be at the Games in any race. South Africa’s Caster Semenya and Burundi’s France Niyonsaba, the two women who beat Wambui in Rio, are also DSD athletes, but unlike Wambui, they have both shifted focus to other events.

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

“It is sad to see that whole podium won’t be there,” Wambui said. “They cut short our careers, because that wasn’t our plan. I feel bad that I won’t be in the Olympics because of [the] World Athletics rules.”

Semenya, who won gold in Rio, first tested her abilities in the 200m, but she has more recently committed to the 5,000m. With just a few weeks to go until the Olympic qualification window closes ahead of the Tokyo Games, Semenya is still well off the Olympic standard of 15:10.00 (she owns a PB of 15:32.15). Niyonsaba has been much more successful in the longer races, with Olympic-qualifying times (and Burundian national records) in both the 5,000m (14:54.38) and 10,000m (31:08.51). 

Although Wambui didn’t switch to another event in time to potentially qualify for this year’s Games, she told the BBC that she plans to train for the 5,000m. “It will be painful watching the Olympics on TV knowing that I would have been capable of qualifying,” she said. “But I will watch [the Games] because sport is in my blood.”