Semenya wins national 800 title, targeting world champs
STELLENBOSCH, South Africa (AP) With a new coach, a new hairstyle and a new, trimmer physique, Caster Semenya reclaimed the South African 800-meter title Saturday and said she's injury-free and looking to qualify for her first world championships in four years.
The former 800 world title-holder and 2012 Olympic silver medalist won in 2 minutes, 5.05 seconds in Stellenbosch, near Cape Town, making her move on the last corner and pulling away from the field through the final 50 meters.
Semenya's winning time was just over four seconds off the qualifying mark for the worlds in Beijing in August, but she has run sparingly over the last three years because of injury problems.
She said the world championships in August were ''the aim. The most important thing is to stay healthy.''
The 24-year-old Semenya is being guided by new coach Jean Verster after splitting with former Olympic champion Maria Mutola. She said she's been working with Verster, a former South African distance runner, for five months.
A teenage sensation when she won the world title in 2009 at 18, Semenya's career was thrown off track for a year when she was prevented from running because of a gender-test scandal.
She returned to win a silver medal at the 2011 worlds and mistimed her finish to take silver at the London Olympics.
Since then, Semenya has struggled to compete regularly after the recurrence of an old knee injury and missed the 2013 worlds. She said Saturday she had been ''sitting for almost two years.''
''Better times, that's what I need right now,'' Semenya said.
On Saturday, Semenya - with her hair cut in a mohawk style - ran in the middle of the pack for 600 meters, then shifted gear through the final two bends and powered down the straight to win comfortably. She appeared much slimmer than she was a few years ago.
Semenya will compete at least once more in South Africa, she said, before heading overseas for the buildup to the worlds. She hasn't confirmed for any international races yet, but said she was looking at running at the Prefontaine Classic Diamond League meet in Eugene, Oregon at the end of May.