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Caster Semenya sets national record in Doha, dismisses ‘nonsense’ rule

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Caster Semenya lowered her 1500m national record, then reportedly dismissed questions about a new IAAF rule limiting female testosterone levels in her events.

“I don’t talk about nonsense,” the Olympic and world 800m champion said at the Diamond League opener in Doha on Friday, according to multiple reports, echoing her response to a similar question last August.

South Africa’s Olympic Committee said Semenya, whom track officials mandated undergo gender testing in 2009, is expected to be affected by the rule planned to go into effect Nov. 1. South Africa’s track and field federation has said it will see that the rule is challenged to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Semenya broke four minutes for the first time in the 1500m in the Qatar capital on Friday.

She moved from fifth to first in the last lap against a field that lacked any of the other top seven women from the 2016 Olympics or 2017 Worlds. Semenya earned 1500m bronze at last year’s worlds to complement her 800m title.

Full Doha meet results are here.

In other events, Kendra Harrison edged Brianna McNeal in a matchup of world-record holder and Olympic champion in the 100m hurdles. McNeal led early but clipped the eighth of 10 hurdles and ended up .05 behind Harrison, who clocked 12.53 seconds, well off her record of 12.20. It was McNeal’s first international meet since the Rio Games and a yearlong ban for missing three drug tests.

American Noah Lyles won the men’s 200m in a personal-best 19.83. Surprise world champion Ramil Guliyev of Turkey was third in 20.11, and Olympic silver medalist Andre De Grasse of Canada was sixth in 20.46. Lyles, 20, won last season’s Diamond League final but missed worlds because he withdrew from the U.S. Championships with a hamstring strain.

Marie-Josee Ta Lou prevailed in the women’s 100m in a personal-best 10.85, the fastest time in the world this year. Jamaican Elaine Thompson, the Olympic champion, was third in 10.93, marking her second 100m loss since the start of 2016. World champion Tori Bowie of the U.S. was not in the Doha field.

World silver medalist Steven Gardiner of the Bahamas took the 400m in a national record 43.87 seconds. Only Michael Johnson has run faster this early in a year. The race lacked Olympic champion and world-record holder Wayde van Niekerk, who is coming back from an ACL tear.

Double Olympic champion Christian Taylor was outdueled by Portuguese rival Pedro Pablo Pichardo in the triple jump, 17.95 meters to 17.81.

Abderrahman Samba of Qatar took the men’s 400m hurdles in 47.57, the world’s fastest time in nearly eight years and the fastest time ever this early in a year. Olympic champion Kerron Clement was sixth in 50.19.

The Diamond League moves to Shanghai a week from Saturday, with Christian ColemanJustin Gatlin and De Grasse expected to meet in the 100m.

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Caster Semenya, hurdles showdown headline Diamond League opener

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Caster Semenya races internationally for the first time since last week’s IAAF testosterone announcement at the season-opening Diamond League meet in Doha, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBC Sports Gold on Friday.

Live coverage begins at 11:15 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold’s “Track and Field Pass” (commercial-free) and noon on Olympic Channel. NBCSN will air coverage Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

Semenya, the Olympic 800m champion, is entered in the 1500m in Doha against a field lacking any of the other top seven finishers from the 2016 Olympics or 2017 Worlds. Semenya took 1500m bronze at last year’s worlds.

Semenya has not commented publicly on last week’s IAAF announcement that women with high testosterone must reduce those levels by Nov. 1 or will not be allowed in international races between 400m and the mile. South Africa’s Olympic Committee said Semenya, whom track officials mandated undergo gender testing in 2009, is expected to be affected by the ruling.

While Semenya is the standout name in Doha, several other events feature stronger head-to-head matchups, including reigning Olympic and world champions.

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

11:10 a.m. — Women’s Pole Vault
11:15 — Women’s Discus
11:50 — Men’s Triple Jump
Noon — Men’s High Jump
12:03 — Men’s 400m
12:13 — Women’s 1500m
12:26 — Women’s 100m
12:35 — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase
12:50 — Men’s Javelin
12:53 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
1:02 — Men’s 1500m
1:15 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
1:25 — Men’s 800m
1:36 — Men’s 200m
1:45 — Women’s 3000m

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s 1500m — 12:13 p.m. ET
Semenya has two defeats in about 20 international meets since the start of 2016, according to Tilastopaja.org. It would be a shock if she gets a third here. Semenya owns the two fastest times of the year in her complementary event. None of the other star 1500m runners — like Olympic and world champion Faith Kipyegon (pregnancy), Olympic and world medalist Jenny Simpson (racing the 3000m in Doha) and world-record holder Genzebe Dibaba — are in this field.

Women’s 100m — 12:26 p.m. ET
Four of the top five sprinters from the 2017 World Championships, missing only gold medalist Tori Bowie. Watch Olympic champion Elaine Thompson, whose only 100m defeat since the start of 2016 came at the 2017 Worlds. But the Jamaican was fourth this year in the world indoor championships 60m and the Commonwealth Games 200m.

Men’s Javelin — 12:50 p.m. ET
Probably the strongest Doha field at the top with the top four from the 2017 World Championships. Germany has the reigning Olympic champion (Thomas Roehler) and world champion (Johannes Vetter), who combined for the top six throws in the world last year. Last year in Doha, Roehler recorded the world’s farthest throw in 20 years, only to see Vetter go farther two months later.

Women’s 100m Hurdles — 1:15 p.m. ET
The five fastest Americans over the last 13 years are in this field — world-record holder Kendra Harrison, 2016 Olympic champion Brianna McNeal, Sharika NelvisJasmin Stowers and 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson. It’s the third time these five women will race together. McNeal races internationally for the first time since leading a U.S. sweep in Rio and then sitting out all of 2017 for missing three drug tests (though never failing one). Harper-Nelson races for the first time since announcing she will retire at the end of the season. Harrison’s only defeats since the start of 2016 were at the Olympic trials and world championships.

Men’s 200m — 1:36 p.m. ET
An intriguing group including surprise world champion Ramil Guliyev of Turkey, Olympic silver medalist Andre De Grasse of Canada, Olympic 110m hurdles champion Omar McLeod, promising American Noah Lyles and Jereem Richards of Trinidad and Tobago. With Usain Bolt retired and Wayde van Niekerk absent and coming off a knee tear, there is no clear-cut king of the 200m at the moment.

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Female runners with high testosterone face new restriction

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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.

Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya, who was gender tested in 2009, is expected to be affected, according to South Africa’s Olympic Committee.

“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 a 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, after funding a study along with the World Anti-Doping Agency, said research showed the following natural testosterone levels:

Most women: .12-1.79 nanomoles per liter in blood
Normal men after puberty: 7.7-29.4 nmol/L

The IAAF rule forces all women who race the 400m through mile and who are androgen-sensitive to restrict their ratio to below five. It said women who have “a difference of sexual development” can have natural testosterone levels beyond the normal male range.

The IAAF and WADA-funded study found that women with high testosterone have up to a 4.5 percent advantage over their competition on the track.

Research showed 7.1 of every 1,000 elite female track and field athletes have elevated testosterone, most of which were runners in events between 400m and the mile.

“The treatment to reduce testosterone levels is a hormone supplement similar to the contraceptive pill taken by millions of women around the world,” an IAAF doctor said in the release. “No athlete will be forced to undergo surgery.”

The IAAF had gender-verification testing in place until 2011, when it was replaced with a test for abnormally high levels of natural testosterone. Under that rule, female athletes with a ratio of 10 nmol/L or higher could only compete against women if they had an operation or took hormones to reduce their testosterone level.

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.

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.

An image with the sentence, “How beautiful it is to stay silent when someone expects you to be enraged,” was posted on Semenya’s social media Wednesday after reports were first published about the new rule.

Her default position is generally to talk only about her running, but she spoke out against her critics in a speech after accepting South Africa’s Sportswoman of the Year in November 2016.

“They say she talks like a man, she walks like a man, she runs like a man,” Semenya said, before finishing off the series with an Afrikaans word that loosely translates to “Get lost.”

South Africa’s Olympic Committee president Gideon Sam said Thursday his organization was “disappointed by the IAAF ruling.”

“Especially given that Caster’s name is again being dragged through the publicity mill,” he said in a press release. “We are concerned that the decisions have been approved without taking into account all factors into consideration, as these factors have not been properly nor fully ventilated. We wish to place on record that Caster Semenya has never engaged in any performance-enhancing activities and any enhanced testosterone levels are due solely to her genetic make-up.”

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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