Caster Semenya eyes Olympic 400m-800m double, possible Allyson Felix clash

Caster Semenya
AP
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Scrutinized South African Caster Semenya said she thinks she will race both the 400m and the 800m at the Rio Olympics after she broke her national record in the 800m at a meet in Monaco on Friday night.

“I think we’re going to take part in two events, four and eight,” Semenya said on BBC Radio after the race. “But, yeah, we still have to go decide again.”

If Semenya races the 400m in Rio, in addition to her favored 800m, she could face the biggest U.S. track and field star, Allyson Felix, the reigning world champion and fastest woman of 2016 in the one-lap race.

Semenya, known for a gender-testing controversy after she won the 2009 World 800m title, set her 400m personal best on April 16, clocking 50.74 seconds. She ranks ninth in the world this year in the event among women poised to compete in Rio.

Felix’s world-leading time for 2016 is 49.68 seconds. Felix won the 2015 World title in 49.26 seconds. It doesn’t sound like Semenya has eyes on beating Felix in Rio.

“The main thing for me is try to run under 50, that’s the main target,” Semenya said Friday night.

Semenya could try to become the second woman to earn Olympic 400m and 800m medals in the same Games, joining Brit Ann Packer, who took 400m silver and then broke the 800m world record at the 1964 Tokyo Games.

The women’s 400m final in Rio is Aug. 15. The women’s 800m rounds start Aug. 17.

In Monaco, Semenya cemented her status as Olympic 800m favorite, breaking her national record with the fastest time in the world since 2008.

Semenya clocked 1:55.33 for two laps (video here). The previous national record was Semenya’s 1:55.45 from 2009 Worlds.

Semenya won by .91 over Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba, who is shaping up to be the silver-medal favorite in Rio. Full Monaco meet results are here.

Semenya’s time is the 22nd-fastest ever and still 2.05 seconds slower than the world record set by Czech Jarmila Kratochvílová in 1983.

Semenya has re-emerged this year with form not seen since she took silver at the London Olympics. The sudden revival came after a July 2015 decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport that suspended for two years a 2011 IAAF ruling that regulated women’s testosterone levels for competition eligibility.

Semenya, who was kept out of competition by the IAAF for 11 months in 2009 and 2010 while undergoing gender tests, has performed well at various times before the 2011 ruling, during the regulation period (2012 Olympics) and now without the regulation.

In other Monaco events, the Netherlands’ Dafne Schippers won the 100m in 10.94 seconds into a -.5 meters/second headwind. Jamaican veteran Veronica Campbell-Brown was second in 11.12, with Tianna Bartoletta fifth in 11.21. Bartoletta was second at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Jamaican Elaine Thompson, who was not in the Monaco field, is fastest in the world this year at 10.70 seconds.

In the 110m hurdles, Olympic favorite Omar McLeod of Jamaica hit the last hurdle and fell, finishing last (video here).

World champion Wayde van Niekerk won the 400m in 44.12 seconds. The field did not include 2008 Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt or 2012 Olympic champion Kirani James, who rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the world (43.97, 44.08) this year ahead of the South African.

The men’s 1500m included the last two Olympic champions in the event — Asbel Kiprop and Taoufik Makhloufi — and Olympic 5000m and 10,000m champion Mo Farah. They were all beaten by Kenyan Ronald Kwemoi.

New Zealand’s Valerie Adams beat fellow Olympic medal contenders Christina Schwanitz of Germany and Michelle Carter of the U.S. in the shot put.

MORE: American record holder concerned about Semenya competing in Rio