Allyson Felix, the most decorated woman in Olympic track and field history, spoke out in support of Caster Semenya on Wednesday.
Felix reacted to the IAAF rule change capping testosterone levels for athletes in women’s events between the 400m and mile, conversing with Julie Foudy on the Olympic soccer champion’s podcast, Laughter Permitted.
Semenya, the two-time Olympic 800m champion on a three-year win streak, has said she is being specifically targeted by the rule change.
The South African challenged it to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) but lost a decision last week, nearly a decade since word leaked that track officials mandated she undergo gender-verification testing after she won the world 800m title by 2.45 seconds at age 18.
“I’ve been disappointed from the beginning, of just how everything has been handled,” Felix said of her fellow Nike-sponsored runner. “I just think that it’s not OK. I stand with Caster. She’s a friend of mine. I just think that no one should have to go through what she’s had to go through. Not just in this moment. From the beginning of when she started competing. So I think it’s a very, very complex issue. … But I just think that it has been mishandled from the start.”
Barring another appeal, and one that is successful, it’s unknown if or when Semenya will be able to compete in her best races again. She and Felix have never raced against each other, though Semenya started becoming competitive in Felix’s best event, the 400m, in recent years.
Felix is glad that she’s not making the decision in a case that has been fiercely debated for years and especially since the CAS ruling.
“There has to be something, or there should have already been something in place when you’re dealing with athletes with differences or intersex athletes. I don’t know. It’s challenging,” she said. “We’re talking about human beings. This is a person. To have all of this play out the way that it has, it makes me cringe to think of her dealing with this. This has been for 10 years now. I just feel like there is a better way.”
Felix also reiterated Wednesday that she’s going for what would be her fifth Olympics in 2020 — “this last one and enjoy the whole ride.” Her daughter, Camryn, is now five months old after being born eight weeks premature and spending her first month in the NICU.
“She’s great. She’s growing. She’s catching up. She’s so much fun,” Felix said.
The nine-time Olympic medalist is still figuring out the mother-athlete balance as she returns to training.
“I’m looking at the workouts and I’m thinking man, I can’t believe there was a time that literally I had to just wake up, train, take a nap, take care of my body and do it all again,” Felix said. “Now, I’m like, how can I get four hours of sleep?”
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