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Caster Semenya on new IAAF rule: ‘discriminatory, irrational, unjustifiable’

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Caster Semenya, the Olympic 800m champion, will challenge a rule limiting women’s testosterone levels in middle-distance races set to go into effect after this season, according to a press release provided by her legal team.

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

She is taking the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

“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 the release. “I just want to run naturally, the way I was born.

“It is not fair that I am told I must change. It is not fair that people question who I am. I am Mokgadi Caster Semenya. I am a woman and I am fast.”

Female runners with high testosterone must reduce those levels or will not be allowed in international races between 400m and the mile, according to an IAAF rule starting Nov. 1.

“Our evidence and data show that testosterone, either naturally produced or artificially inserted into the body, provides significant performance advantages in female athletes,” IAAF president Seb Coe said in an April press release. “The revised rules are not about cheating, no athlete with a DSD [difference of sexual development] has cheated, they are 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, the Court of Arbitration of Sport (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 24 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.

Earlier this spring, Semenya repeated a phrase when asked about the new rule: “I don’t talk about nonsense.” South Africa’s track and field federation said in May that it planned to appeal to CAS.

Full Press Release

Caster Semenya, two-time world champion and two-time gold medallist in the Women’s 800 metre event, will file a legal case before the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne challenging the “Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification” of the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF).

The Regulations compel women who compete in athletics at the international level to submit to medically unnecessary interventions to lower their natural testosterone levels. Ms Semenya, like all athletes, is entitled to compete the way she was born without being obliged to alter her body by any medical means.

Ms Semenya will today (Monday, 18 June 2018) file the legal challenge to ensure, safeguard and protect the rights of all women.  She asserts that the Regulations are discriminatory, irrational, unjustifiable, and in violation of the IAAF Constitution, the Olympic Charter, the laws of Monaco (where the IAAF is based), the laws of jurisdictions in which international competitions are held, and of universally recognised human rights.  

Issued in April, the Regulations seek to establish a divide within the female category on the basis of naturally occurring testosterone levels. The IAAF claims that higher natural testosterone gives these women an unfair advantage over their peers. They also claim that screening for high testosterone levels is needed to ensure a level playing field in women’s athletics, reasoning that testosterone unfairly improves performance in certain select events, which coincide with the events in which Ms Semenya runs. 

Ms Semenya contends that the Regulations are objectionable on numerous grounds, including that they compel women with no prior health complaints to undergo medical interventions to lower their testosterone levels in the absence of support by the available science.

Ms Semenya is equally concerned by the way in which the Regulations continue the offensive practice of intrusive surveillance and judging of women’s bodies which has historically haunted women’s sports. The Regulations stigmatize and cause harm to women, and legitimize discrimination against women in sport who are perceived as not adhering to normative ideas about femininity.

Ms Semenya puts it like this:

“I am very upset that I have been pushed into the public spot light again.  I don’t like talking about this new rule. “I just want to run naturally, the way I was born.  It is not fair that I am told I must change.  It is not fair that people question who I am. I am Mokgadi Caster Semenya.  I am a woman and I am fast.”

The timing of the upcoming filing is critical because the IAAF has announced that the Regulations will come into effect on 1 November 2018 and women must show lowered testosterone levels for a minimum of six months before they can be considered eligible to compete.  Ms Semenya will ask the IAAF to suspend the implementation of the Regulations until her legal challenge is finally disposed of. Without a timely halt to the Regulations healthy women around the world could undergo unnecessary medical intervention in order to be eligible to compete under the Regulations or be unfairly prevented from participating in their chosen sport.  

Gregory Nott, Ms Semenya’s lawyer in South Africa with the international law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, comments that: “This is a landmark case concerning international human rights and discrimination against women athletes with major consequences for gender rights which are jealously protected by the South African Bill of Rights.  We are honoured to represent Ms Semenya and advance a position that protects all affected women along with our colleagues in Canada at Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg, LLP, who represented Ms Dutee Chand in her successful challenge to the IAAF’s 2011 hyperandrogenism regulations, which were suspended by the Court of Arbitration for Sport as a result of Ms Chand’s challenge and subsequently withdrawn by the IAAF.”

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Steeplechase barrier set too high causes chaos at Diamond League

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A barrier set too high marred the women’s 3000m steeplechase at a Diamond League meet in Oslo on Thursday.

A few competitors ran into the barrier. American Emma Coburn, the world champion, made it over clean but then motioned over and over again that something was wrong as she continued the race.

The barrier was wrongly set at the men’s height, which is six inches higher than the women’s height, Coburn and TV commentators said. A similar mishap occurred in qualifying at the 2009 USATF Outdoor Championships.

The runners went through the barrier three times before it was fully fixed. Kenyan Hyvin Kiyeng won in 9:09.63, holding off Coburn’s late charge by .07.

“I’m incredibly frustrated that we had to hurdle the men’s barrier on the back straight three times — we were waving around, and it wasn’t solved until my husband [who doubles as her coach] went out onto the track to tell the officials,” Coburn said, according to the IAAF. “It panicked me, but I tried to stay calm and feel as easy as possible from then on.”

Full Oslo results are here.

In other events, Caster Semenya extended the longest winning streak (by days) in the sport, winning the 800m by 1.32 seconds in 1:57.25. Semenya last lost an 800m in 2015 but is expected to be impacted by an IAAF rule limiting testosterone levels in female middle distance runners scheduled to go into effect after this season.

Qatar’s Abderrahman Samba, the breakout of the outdoor season, won the 400m hurdles in 47.60 seconds, breaking a 32-year-old meet record. The 22-year-old Samba debuted in the 400m hurdles last year and is now ranked 14th all-time in the event, having run the fastest time since 2010 in his last meet (47.48).

In the pole vault, Olympic and world silver medalist Sandi Morris won with a 4.81-meter clearance, while Olympic and world gold medalist Katerina Stefanidi of Greece no-heighted, failing on all three attempts at 4.41 for last place. Stefanidi has struggled in three outdoor meets this season with a top clearance of 4.64 meters, ranking outside the world top 20.

The 2012 Olympic champion Jenn Suhr, who was not in Oslo, has the highest clearance in the world this season of 4.93 meters.

World champion Tom Walsh won a shot put that included the four men who combined to earn every medal at the 2016 Olympics and 2017 Worlds. His winning throw of 22.29 meters was a meet record but well off his world-leading 22.67 for the year.

Olympic champion Ryan Crouser said he believed his last throw was near 23 meters, but it was ruled a foul.

The Diamond League moves to Stockholm for a meet Sunday, live on NBCSN and streaming on NBC Sports Gold.

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U.S. steeplechase stars reunite at Oslo Diamond League; stream info

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The last time Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs raced a steeplechase together, they produced one of the greatest moments in U.S. track and field history.

“Am I dreaming? Am I dreaming?” Frerichs repeated to Coburn on the track that day.

Nearly 10 months later, the reality is that Coburn and Frerichs are headliners. The steeple is one of the marquee events at Thursday’s Diamond League meet in Oslo, live on NBCSN at 2 p.m. ET and streaming commercial-free on NBC Sports Gold at 12 p.m.

It’s the second steeplechase of the season for the world champion Coburn, who was in contention for the win in Rome last Thursday when she fell on a water jump, for the first time in her life, on the last lap.

It’s Frerichs’ first steeple since August, when the 11th-place finisher from Rio chopped 15 seconds off her personal best to take silver behind the Olympic bronze medalist Coburn at worlds.

They’re joined in the Oslo field by the other medalist from worlds, Kenyan Hyvin Kiyeng, who won in Rome last week in a field including the three fastest Kenyans of all time and Coburn.

Here are the Oslo entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

12 p.m. ET — Women’s javelin
12:30 — Women’s Pole Vault
1:10 — Men’s 10,000m
1:15 — Men’s Shot Put
2:03 — Women’s 400m Hurdles
2:05 — Men’s High Jump
2:10 — Men’s 1500m
2:17 — Women’s Triple Jump
2:20 — Women’s 3000m Steeplechase
2:35 — Women’s 100m
2:45 — Women’s 800m
2:50 — Men’s Discus
2:58 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
3:10 — Men’s 200m
3:25 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
3:40 — Women’s 400m
3:50 — Men’s Mile

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s Pole Vault — 12:30 p.m. ET
Katerina Stefanidi 
of Greece and American Sandi Morris go head-to-head for the 30th time, according to Tilastopaja.org. Stefanidi relegated Morris to silver at the 2016 Olympics and 2017 Words, but Morris has been better in all three of their head-to-heads this season. The field does not include world leader Jenn Suhr, but it does have Cuban Yarisley Silva, the 2015 World champion in her first Diamond League meet of the year.

Men’s Shot Put — 1:15 p.m. ET
The four men who combined to earn every shot put medal at the most recent Olympics and worlds convene for the second time in three Diamond League meets: Ryan Crouser (Olympic gold), Joe Kovacs (Olympic silver, world silver), Tom Walsh (Olympic bronze, world gold) and Stipe Žunić (world bronze). Tack on two-time world champion David Storl and world fourth-place finisher Tomáš Staněk, and it becomes the most decorated field in Oslo. Walsh has the world’s farthest throw this season, but Crouser broke the meet record in winning the Prefontaine Classic two weeks ago.

Women’s 3000m Steeplechase — 2:20 p.m. ET
Coburn and Frerichs are underdogs here, given their lack of races since worlds and Kiyeng’s win in Rome with the fastest time in the world this year. But Coburn may well have beaten Kiyeng had she not crashed coming out of the water jump on Thursday. Coburn is the only U.S. woman to win a Diamond League steeplechase, doing so four years ago when the top East Africans let her go because they thought she was a pacer.

Women’s 800m — 2:45 p.m. ET
Caster Semenya puts the sport’s longest win streak (by days) on the line, one that dates to 2015, against her closest definition of a rival, plus some unusual foes. Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi has finished second or third behind Semenya in 13 straight head-to-heads, including silvers at the 2016 Olympics and 2017 Worlds. Brit Laura Muir and American Brenda Martinez both raced the 1500m at the Olympics. Muir, who was fourth in the 1500m at 2017 Worlds, races a Diamond League 800m for the second time in three years. Though Martinez made her only Olympic team in the 1500m, she has primarily raced the 800m overall, including earning bronze at the 2013 Worlds. But she and Semenya have met in just one 800m final since June 2014.

Men’s 400m Hurdles — 3:25 p.m. ET
Featuring the Olympic champion (Kerron Clement) and world champion (Norway’s Karsten Warholm), plus another man who made both podiums (Yasmani Copello of Turkey). But the man to watch is Qatari Abderrahman Samba, who didn’t race in Rio and was seventh at worlds. But in his last two races, Samba ran the fastest time ever recorded that early in a year — national record 47.57 on May 4 and Asian record 47.48 last Thursday, the latter the fastest time in the world in eight years. If Samba can break 47.30, he will move into the top 10 400m hurdlers of all time. He ranked No. 87 all time at the end of 2017.

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