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Caster Semenya switches events: ‘It’s not about being at the Olympics’

Caster Semenya

South African middle-distance runner and 2016 Olympic gold medallist Caster Semenya competes in the women’s 5000m final during the Sizwe Medical Fund Athletics South Africa Senior Track and Field Championships held at the Tuks Athletics Stadium in Pretoria on April 15, 2021. (Photo by Phill Magakoe / AFP) (Photo by PHILL MAGAKOE/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

Caster Semenya, the two-time Olympic 800m champion barred from 400m through the mile unless she takes testosterone-suppressing measures due to a 2019 rule change, has switched events and raced the 5000m twice in the last month. She has not yet qualified for the Tokyo Games.

Semenya, who said in March 2020 that she was focusing on the 200m for an Olympic bid, since moved up to the 5000m, the shortest flat race beyond the 1500m on the Olympic program.

She won at the South African Championships on Thursday in 15:52.28, a personal best by 13.69 seconds, in Pretoria.

The time is well shy of the Olympic qualifying standard of 15:10. Semenya can presumably improve on it by racing closer to sea level (Pretoria is more than 4,000 feet above it) and against faster competition.

The question is whether she can go 42 seconds faster by the June 29 World Athletics deadline. Semenya might be able to qualify without reaching the standard if her world ranking in the 5000m is high enough. She is not currently ranked.

“Maybe if the guys from Durban can do something there somewhere in May,” Semenya said, according to multiple reports. “Maybe we try to go and attempt the time. It’s never too late. But if not‚ it’s not the end of the world. For me it’s not about being at the Olympics. It’s being healthy and running good times and being in the field for the longest.

“I can’t really focus on Tokyo if I’m still building up myself at the moment,” she added, according to Agence France-Presse.

In early 2020, Semenya ran a best 200m of 23.49, shy of the Olympic qualifying standard of 22.80.

“We had to look into‚ can we do 200m for the next five years? It was not really in our favor,” Semenya, 30, said, according to multiple reports. “I’m getting old‚ I’m scared to tear my muscles. We had to sit down and make sure that the decision that we make makes sense. Distance makes sense.”

Semenya’s lawyer said in November that her appeal to be allowed to race events from 400m through the mile without taking testosterone-suppressing measures was being taken to the European Court of Human Rights. A date for her case to be heard has not been announced, lessening the chances it gets resolved before the Tokyo Games.

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