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Semenya's future in doubt after she says no to medication to lower testosterone

DOHA (Reuters) - Double Olympic champion Caster Semenya’s future was in doubt on Friday after she said she would not take medication to lower her testosterone levels to comply with new rules for the 800 metres.

Athletics - Diamond League - Doha - Khalifa International Stadium, Doha, Qatar - May 3, 2019 South Africa's Caster Semenya celebrates after winning the women's 800m REUTERS/Ibraheem Al Omari

There was confusion about how she will be able to compete in her specialist event again, as the 28-year-old South African declared “Hell no!” when asked if she would take testosterone-lowering medication.

At Friday’s Diamond League meeting in Doha, she was adamant she would be back in the Qatari capital in September to defend her 800 metres world title. But how she plans to do that without conforming to the new rules remained unclear.

Semenya easily won the 800 metres event on Friday, the last time she will be able to run that distance before the International Association of Athletics Federations’ testosterone limiting rules come into effect on May 8.

Under the new regulations, female athletes with high natural levels of testosterone wishing to compete in events from 400m to a mile must medically limit that level to under 5 nmol/L, double the normal female range of below 2 nmol/L.

Semenya, who has battled for years against the new rules and was competing two days after losing her appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), also refused to clarify suggestions that she would switch to a new distance that is exempt.

However, she said she would return to Doha in September to compete in the 800m at the world championships.

“Yes of course ... I will be here defending the world title,” she said, adamantly rejecting suggestions she would quit the sport altogether.

“I’m never going anywhere,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about believing.

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“God has decided my career and he will end my career, so no human can stop me from running. I understand there’s been a lot of controversy but that does not control anything.”


In Wednesday’s ruling, CAS said the regulations were necessary for athletes with differences in sexual development (DSDs) to ensure fair competition. Semenya’s legal team said it was considering appealing that ruling.

The case is likely to have far-reaching consequences for women’s sport, and has split opinion around the globe.

“We’re doing it for the next generation. We want to inspire them,” Semenya said.

“I believe in my legal team, they will do their best to get me back on the track.”

Following the CAS case, other sporting bodies may now choose to set their own parameters for participation by athletes with difference in sexual development (DSD) in their individual codes.

Semenya cruised home on Friday as she won her 30th successive race over the distance in one minute 54.98 seconds, nearly three seconds ahead of Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba.

Given a warm reception by a sparse crowd at Doha’s Khalifa International Stadium as the runners were presented at the start, Semenya bided her time before taking the lead with around 300 metres left and then powered away from the rest of the field.

Niyonsaba, Olympic silver medalist in 2016, recently revealed she had similar DSD characteristics to Semenya.

If Semenya wants to continue with the 800m, she must now begin taking medication to lower her testosterone levels, based on the new rules. Testosterone is a hormone that increases muscle mass, strength and hemoglobin - which affects endurance.

Semenya could compete in longer distances not affected by the rule change.

She claimed the 5,000-metres title at the South African Athletics Championships last week, an event not covered by the IAAF regulations, but in a modest time of 16:05.97, well below the qualifying standard for the world championships of 15:22.00.

“I’m a crazy athlete, I switch events like hell but, yeah, 800 metres is my calling, I believe in it, and that’s what I want to do,” she said.

“I will switch races when I want to -- no man can tell me what to do. I’m here for a purpose, if I want to switch events I switch them, but if someone wants me to switch them, that’s their own problem, not mine.

“I’m a power athlete, I can run from 100 metres to 5 km, so I can run any race I want.”

Writing by Brian Homewood, editing by Pritha Sarkar