The three-time world 800-metre champion has improved with almost every single race in her specialist two-lap event until she hit a bit of a snag at the Oslo Diamond League earlier this month.
Rumour has it that Semenya has her sights set firmly on another major milestone as she goes in pursuit of dipping below 1min 55sec, a feat only six women in history have achieved.
It would edge her towards Czech athlete Jarmila Kratochvilova’s world record of 1:53.28 from 1983. She also needs to chop another second off her South African record to get close to Pamela Jelimo of Kenya’s continental record of 1:54.01. Semenya will go up against a fine field that includes the five fastest women of the season over the distance.
The South African boasts the world lead of 1:55.92 she clocked in Eugene towards the end of May. Lining up next to her is world silver and bronze medallists, Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and American Ajee Wilson, who both have PB’s below 1:56.
Three others have gone faster than 1:57. While Semenya will be looking to extend her winning streak of close to three years, South African 100m record holder Akani Simbine goes up against some of the fastest men in the world this year.
Only two athletes in the field – former world champion Yohan Blake of Jamaica and American Jeff Demps – have not dipped below 10 seconds this season. American duo Mike Rodgers and Ronnie Baker, who boast the second and third fastest times so far this year will headline the race.
Not a single athlete has dominated the 100m this year which is something Simbine expected after Jamaican legend Usain Bolt retired last year.
“It’s an era where everybody is gonna show up and try to win and everyone has the potential to win. It’s pretty exciting where you have eight guys running and all can win.”
Simbine has taken a different approach to his season where he his doing a lot of racing compared to previous years. There has also been no rush to push his body to the limit which has seen him post his first sub-10 second time relatively late in the season.
He dipped below 10 seconds for the first time this year at last week’s IAAF World Challenge meeting in Madrid. He clocked 9.98 in his heat but had to be content with third place after cramping up coming out of the blocks in the final.
It would still be quite the feather in his cap if he manages to beat the likes of Rodgers and Baker. Former South African 100m record holder Henricho Bruintjies and Thando Roto will feature in the B-race earlier in the programme.
Short-sprint hurdles specialist Antonio Alkana will be fighting for a spot in the final in his qualifying heat of the 110m hurdles. Half-lap sprinter Luxolo Adams will race in the non-Diamond 200m event where he will be looking to build on a breakthrough season.
* De Villiers is in Paris courtesy of the IAAF.@ockertde
Independent on Saturday