Athletics: Semenya through as gender debate re-opens

Wed Aug 17, 2016 2:27pm EDT
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By Mitch Phillips

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Caster Semenya qualified for the Olympic women's 800 meters semi-finals with supreme ease on Wednesday and was immediately plunged into a new gender controversy after a race rival questioned whether it was fair for her to compete.

South African Semenya will be hot favorite for Saturday's final but Frenchwoman Justine Fedronic, who failed to advance from the heats, said although she had sympathy for her rival's situation, her high testosterone levels meant it was not a fair fight.

"When you line up against someone like that, you know it's going to be a completely different ball game," Fedronic said.

"I do feel for her. She is just trying to train and compete just like the rest of us so that is really not fair to her. But it is not fair for others too. So I don't know what the solution is."

Semenya has dominated the 800m this season and there has even been speculation that she could take down Czech Jarmila Kratochvilova's 1983 record of 1 minute, 53.28 seconds - the longest standing athletics world record and widely considered to have been chemically enhanced.

Some observers consider Semenya to be also running with an unfair advantage, albeit one she can do little about.

After winning the 2009 world title as a 19-year-old, tests are reported to have revealed that she is hyperandrogenous, resulting in her body producing an abnormally high amount of testosterone, which makes her more powerful than her rivals.

An International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) rule limiting the amount of naturally occurring functional testosterone for female athletes appeared to have limited Semenya's prospects but the rule was quashed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport last year.   Continued...

Caster Semenya of South Africa, Ajee Wilson of USA, Shelayna Oskan-Clarke of Britain and Wang Chunyu of China compete   REUTERS/David Gray