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Caster Semenya talks 800m world record, goals, meeting LeBron James

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As Caster Semenya appealed a planned rule change that could impact her dramatically, she put together one of the fastest middle-distance seasons in track and field history.

In an interview last week, the scrutinized Olympic 800m champion from South Africa declined to discuss her in-process legal challenge to an IAAF rule that would force female runners in her events with high testosterone to reduce those levels starting next season.

“I’ve been advised to stick in my lane,” Semenya said before receiving the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award at the Billie Jean King-founded Women’s Sport Foundation’s annual salute in New York City. “I cannot say anything about it.”

The IAAF expects a hearing in Semenya’s case in February with a verdict by March 26.

In 2009, when Semenya won the world 800m title by nearly 2.5 seconds at age 18, word leaked that track officials mandated she undergo sex testing. The IAAF had gender-verification testing in place until 2011, when it was replaced with a test for abnormally high levels of natural testosterone.

In July 2015, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) suspended the IAAF’s regulation, ruling that it lacked sufficient scientific backing and was therefore unjustifiably discriminatory. CAS is also handling Semenya’s appeal to the current proposed rule change.

Semenya has never spoken publicly in detail about her situation. It has never been publicly verified that Semenya’s body naturally produces abnormally high levels of testosterone or that she ever took hormone suppressants.

What’s clear is that Semenya is looking forward to competing next season.

This past spring and summer, she clocked the three fastest times of her life in each of the 400m, the 800m and the 1500m (breaking 1:55 for the first time).

Semenya is now the fourth-fastest woman in history in her primary event, the 800m, and .97 of a second slower than the questioned world record set by Czech Jarmila Kratochvílová in 1983.

It’s hard for Semenya to gauge her chances of closing in on the longest-standing record in the sport (assuming her legal challenge holds up).

“But if you are a half-second or a second away from a world record, then you think, OK, there are things that I’m doing right,” she said. “The most important thing is being consistent. When you run 1:55, 1:54 consistent, it shows that you can do better than that.

“Also when you run 400 meters under 50 [seconds], then you can run [the 1500 meters] under four minutes, it shows you still have more in the tank.”

Semenya broke those time barriers for the first time this spring and summer. She finished the season ranked No. 1 in the world in the 800m, No. 4 in the 400m and No. 9 in the 1500m, rare versatility.

She said she would rather win a fourth world title at 800m next year than break the world record. The 400m is also very much in her plans.

“If we can run almost 49 low next year … then we’ll know we’re ready to do anything at 800 meters,” she said. The only women to break 49.5 since the Rio Olympics are Rio gold medalist Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas and world silver medalist Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain.

World records clearly are important to Semenya.

She said her favorite race was not at an Olympics or world championships, but a 600m in Berlin in August 2017. She took nearly a second off the fastest time ever in the event, which is not on the Olympic program and thus is listed as a “world best” rather than a record.

Semenya returned to Berlin, also site of that eye-popping 2009 World title, for another highlight last month. She ran the world’s fastest 1000m in 22 years and met LeBron James.

“He just told me, keep on doing what I’m doing,” Semenya said. “He inspires me. I inspire him. It was just more for exchanging words when greatness meets greatness.”

NBC Sports’ Seth Rubinroit and NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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IAAF delays testosterone rule change after Caster Semenya challenge

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The IAAF delayed implementing a rule limiting women’s testosterone levels from Nov. 1 until March due to a legal appeal from Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya and South Africa’s track and field federation.

The IAAF expects a hearing in Semenya’s case in February with a verdict by March 26.

“The IAAF remains very confident of the legal, scientific and ethical bases for the regulations, and therefore fully expects the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to reject these challenges,” the IAAF said in a press release. “However, the IAAF also understands that all affected athletes need certainty on the point as soon as possible. Therefore, in exchange for Ms. Semenya and [Athletics South Africa] agreeing to an expedited timetable, the IAAF has agreed not to enforce the regulations against any athlete unless and until they are upheld in the CAS award.”

The proposed rule calls for female runners with high testosterone to reduce those levels to be allowed in international races between 400m and the mile.

Semenya, who underwent gender testing in 2009 and is expected to be affected by the rule, said in June it is “discriminatory, irrational, unjustifiable,” in her first public comments since it was announced April 26.

“I am very upset that I have been pushed into the public spotlight again. I don’t like talking about this new rule,” Semenya said in a June press release. “I just want to run naturally, the way I was born.”

IAAF president Seb Coe said the rule was “about leveling the playing field to ensure fair and meaningful competition.”

The IAAF had gender-verification testing in place until 2011, when it was replaced with a test for abnormally high levels of natural testosterone.

In July 2015, CAS suspended the IAAF’s regulation, ruling that it lacked sufficient scientific backing and was therefore unjustifiably discriminatory.

The gender-testing issue was raised in 2009, when Semenya won the world 800m title by nearly 2.5 seconds at age 18. Word leaked that track officials mandated she undergo sex testing.

Semenya was not cleared to run for 11 months and came back to earn silver at the 2011 Worlds and 2012 Olympics, while the testosterone-limiting rule was in effect, behind Russian Maria Savinova, who has since been stripped of her golds for doping.

Semenya then had a lull in performance after the London Games while the testosterone-limiting rule was still in effect. After CAS suspended the rule in 2015, Semenya peaked again in 2016, going undefeated in 800m races, twice breaking the national record and comfortably winning Olympic gold. She has won 29 straight 800m finals dating to 2015, according to Tilastopaja.org.

Semenya has never spoken publicly in detail about her situation. It has never been publicly verified that Semenya’s body naturally produces abnormally high levels of testosterone or that she ever took hormone suppressants.

Semenya is receiving the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award at the Women’s Sport Foundation’s (WSF) annual salute in New York City on Wednesday.

“Despite public pressure and scrutiny, Semenya has embraced this advocacy role with dignity and courage,” according to a WSF statement. “The Women’s Sports Foundation unequivocally supports Semenya in her challenge to a discriminatory rule that if passed, will place women’s bodies, their well-being, livelihood, identity and privacy at imminent risk.

“It is the position of the Women’s Sports Foundation that eligibility standards for women’s sports that require female athletes to demonstrate particular hormone levels perpetuate the historical discrimination that has been prevalent in women’s sports for decades. We are confident that, when presented with the facts, the Court of Arbitration for Sport will uphold the human rights of all athletes.”

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Noah Lyles matches Usain Bolt feat in Speed Racer socks

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Noah Lyles put on his Speed Racer socks and roared like a Dragon Ball Z character. Then he backed it up as usual, winning the Diamond League final 200m in 19.67 seconds in Zurich on Thursday.

“I was looking for a PR, like always,” Lyles, who missed his best time by .02 running into a slight headwind, said on Swiss TV. “But getting close to it is even better. It really humbles yourself to make sure that next year I’m going to really bring it.”

It was .01 off Usain Bolt‘s meet record from 2012. Bolt remains incomparable, but Lyles is the closest thing the sport has seen since the Jamaican’s retirement a year ago.

The dancing Lyles has four times broken 19.7 seconds this season. Only Bolt has done so before, during his peak season in 2009. Michael Johnson broke 19.7 twice in his entire career.

Lyles turned 21 last month. When Bolt was that old, his personal best was 19.75, one tenth slower than Lyles’ current best. Though Bolt lowered it to 19.30 by the time he turned 22.

Lyles is undefeated in outdoor 200m races since he finished fourth at the 2016 Olympic Trials, just missing the Rio team as an 18-year-old. He was injured at the 2017 U.S. Championships, forcing him out of the 2017 Worlds.

So Lyles never raced Bolt, but he has been the world’s best sprinter this season, also taking the U.S. 100m title in June.

Full Zurich results are here.

The last Diamond League meet of the season is Friday in Brussels, live on NBC Sports Gold at 12:05 p.m. ET and Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA at 2.

In other events Thursday, Olympic and world champion Conseslus Kipruto won the 3000m steeplechase with one shoe.

Caster Semenya extended a near-three-year win streak in the 800m, gapping the field by 2.59 seconds in 1:55.27. World bronze medalist Ajeé Wilson of the U.S. was the distant runner-up.

Semenya owns the world’s seven fastest times since the start of 2016, topped by her South African record 1:54.25 from June 30, but the 800m could look different next year.

An IAAF rule limiting testosterone in female middle-distance runners is scheduled to go into effect next season. Semenya, who was gender tested in 2009, is challenging it to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Kenyan Timothy Cheruiyot continued his recent 1500m domination, pulling away from training partner Elijah Manangoi. Cheruiyot clocked 3:30.27, beating Manangoi by .89. Cheruiyot, who took silver at 2017 Worlds behind Manangoi, went undefeated in six Diamond League races this year.

In the men’s 400m, 2017 U.S. champion Fred Kerley won a Wayde van Niekerk-less race in 44.80 seconds. That was well off the fastest time in the world this year (43.61) held by American Michael Norman (also not in Zurich). Kerley said after that he was coming off an injury.

Van Niekerk, the Olympic and world champ and world-record holder, missed all of this season after October 2017 meniscus and ACL tears playing touch rugby.

World silver medalist Steven Gardiner of the Bahamas pulled up on the last straightaway and did not finish. He was able to walk off the track.

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