ATHLETICS Panorama: Semenya jumps into Diamond League 800 m in Doha

South Africa's Olympic and World Champion Caster Semenya

She wasn’t entered in the entry lists posted on Tuesday, but a day after losing her request for arbitration against the female eligibility rules of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), South Africa’s Caster Semenya is reported to have entered the women’s 800 m at the Doha Diamond League meet on Friday.

Semenya’s agent is reported to have confirmed her entry into the meet, which will now include all three Rio medal winners – Semenya, Francine Niyonsaba (BDI) and Margaret Wambui (KEN) – all of whom will likely be impacted by the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s decision announced Wednesday that upheld the IAAF’s new rules on testosterone levels in women competing in the 400-800-1,000-1,500 m-Mile.

The IAAF’s procedure now in place allows competitors in Doha (on 3 May) to compete without any reduction in testosterone levels; that restriction will go into effect on 8 May.

So what can be expected on Friday? Semenya has likely not done any speed work, as she has run in only three meets this year, and won the South African titles at 1,500 m (4:13.59) and 5,000 m (16:05.97) last week.

Being from the Southern Hemisphere, she’s no stranger to running in April and May, and she has run sub-2:00 seven times – all wins – before the first week of May:

1:56.61 on 05 May 2017 ~ Diamond League Doha (fastest ever prior to 10 May)
1:56.68 on 13 April 2018 ~ Commonwealth Games final
1:57.80 on 17 March 2018 ~ National Championships final
1:58.26 on 06 May 2016 ~ Diamond League Doha
1:58.45 on 16 April 2016 ~ National Championships
1:58.92 on 16 March 2018 ~ National Championships heats
1:59.29 on 12 April 2018 ~ Commonwealth Games heats

The long trip from South Africa and the emotion of the moment could propel her to something unbelievable, or simply a win in around 1:57. The social media world caught fire this morning after Semenya tweeted a photograph of a hand reaching for barbed wire with the inscription “Knowing when to walk away is wisdom. Being able to is courage. Walking away with your head held high is dignity.”

Semenya is sponsored by Nike, and if she does prefer to retire from track, one wonders whether – in light of Nike’s hiring of ex-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick as essentially an activist – there might be a role already contemplated for her on the women’s rights side vs. Kaepernick’s concerns primarily focused on race.

At the Doha Diamond League news conference Thursday morning, IAAF President Sebastian Coe expressed his opinion of the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling:

“I think this is pretty straightforward and it is very straightforward for any international federation in sport. Athletics has two classifications: it has age, it has gender. We are fiercely protective about both. And I am really grateful the court of arbitration for sport has upheld that principle.”

Asked about the CAS suggestion that the IAAF defer its regulations as regards the 1,500 m and the mile, Coe said there would be none and the regulations would be enforced.

At the athlete news conference in Doha, there was considerable interest in competing in the same stadium where the 2019 World Championships will be held.

Said reigning pole vault World Champion Sam Kendricks (USA), “Every Diamond League meet I get better at each year because I have a little bit more experience at those venues. It’s my first time here in Doha so I hope that rings true later this year.” With the world lead at 5.94 m (19-5 3/4) for Mondo Duplantis (SWE), Kendricks confirmed that his target for Friday was (1) to win and (2) clear 5.95 m (19-6 1/4) or better.

The best comments were from shot put star Tom Walsh (NZL). He noted that today is the golden age of the event, in that only 28 men have ever thrown 22.00 m (72-2 1/4) or better, and “seven of them are here. If you don’t throw 22 meters these days you’re not in the mix.

“Obviously Ryan [Crouser] came out two weeks ago and threw really well. And you know, that makes me angry” – as in – “agitated. Because I want to prove to everybody that I can do that, too.”

Said Walsh of the 1990 world record of 23.12 m (75-10 1/4) by American Randy Barnes, “it’s been around for far too long. I know I’m not the only one who thinks they can break it. I’m sure Ryan thinks he can. And Darrell [Hill], and a bunch of others.”

Crouser’s 22.74 m (74-7 1/4) throw is the longest since Barnes’s world mark in 1990. Walsh is no slouch, either, having reached 21.91 m (71-10 3/4) himself already this season.