Could Caster Semenya break the world record in her final 800 meter race before needing to take medication to lower testosterone levels?

By Scooby Axson and Chris Chavez
May 02, 2019

Two-time Olympic champion Caster Semenya will race the women's 800 meters at the Doha Diamond League meet on Friday. This will mark the final race at that particular distance that she can compete in before the International Association of Athletics Federation implements its new rule that requires athletes with differences in sex development to reduce their testosterone levels with medication or treatment.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport announced the decision to uphold the IAAF's rule as a “necessary, reasonable and proportionate means” of protecting the fairness of women's competition in sport. No athlete will be forced to start taking medication but under the new rules, athletes with differences of sexual development will have to undergo a blood test on May 8 to monitor their eligibility for the IAAF World Championships in September or 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The IAAF policy will come into effect on May 8 and will impact athletes competing in track events from 400 meters to the mile.

Friday's meet in Doha is the first Diamond League event of the year. The women's 800 meters also features Olympic silver medalist Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi, who recently revealed that she also has a natural testosterone condition. This could be the last race that the two compete in before taking medication to lower testosterone levels, which is expected to have an impact on their performance. University of Cape Town exercise physiologist Ross Tucker estimates Semenya would slow about seven seconds.

Could Semenya chase the world record one last time?

Semenya has a personal best of 1:54.25 for the 800-meter distance. She is the fourth-fastest woman of all-time. Jarmila Kratochvílová's world record of 1:53.28 was set in 1983 – a period in athletics where state-sponsored doping was rampant in East Germany and the Soviet Union. Kratochvílová never failed a drug test in her career but the New York Times reported that her name appeared in 1984 and 1987 in association with Czechoslovakia’s secret and systematic doping program.

Semenya ran her personal best last June at the Paris Diamond League meet but has been knocking on the door of the world record. She ran under 1:55.00 on three occasions in 2018. She has run under 1:56.00 on 11 occasions since 2016. 

The fastest that anyone has ever run in this early in the year is 1:55.76 by Kenya's Pamela Jelimo on May 24th, 2018 at a meet in Hengelo.

Will this be the last time she competes?

No. Semenya could still compete in events that are not in the 400-meter to mile range without taking medication. She competed and won the 5,000 meters at the South African national championships over the weekend in 16:05.07 at altitude. She would need to run 15:10.00 or faster to qualify for the event at the 2020 Summer Games.

For more on the Semenya case decision by CAS, check out our full explainer.

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