CAPE TOWN - Caster Semenya is taking the tough road to the Tokyo Olympics, and that figurative hill was laid bare at the South African championships in Pretoria on Thursday.
While the 800m Olympic champion claimed victory in 15 minutes, 52.28 seconds (15:52.28), it was outside the qualifying time required: 15:10.00 that would have booked her ticket to Japan.
But the consolation is that it is a new personal best in the distance, beating her previous mark of 16:14.43 by a big margin.
Semenya can also be pleased with her effort as it was just her second race in several months, and at altitude, as she has been fighting a fierce battle off the track in trying to have World Athletics’ rules in relation to athletes with differences of sexual development (DSD) overturned.
Having first gone to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland and been unsuccessful, she has turned to the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, which is empowered to investigate any violations of the European Convention on Human Rights.
While the SA championships are not being broadcast or live-streamed, one of the KZN athletics coaches, Mduduzi Khumalo, posted a Facebook Live of the 5 000m race, where Semenya was in the leading group throughout.
She was accompanied by defending champion Glenrose Xaba, Kyla Jacobs and Diana Lebo Phalula as the quartet broke away from the rest of the field. Semenya paced herself carefully, with much of the front-running being done by Xaba.
But in the final few metres, Athletics Gauteng North athlete Semenya sped away to victory in 15:52.28, followed by her provincial teammate Xaba in 15:55.25, with Western Province’s Jacobs claiming the bronze medal in 16:11.53. Phalula faded to fourth in 16:29.64.
The other early-morning final on Thursday was the men’s 10 000m, where in an exciting final lap, KZN’s Mbuleli Mathanga outlasted teammate Adam Lipschitz to clinch the gold medal in 29:23.74. Lipschitz took silver in 29:30.40, while SA 5 000m record-holder Elroy Gelant of Central North West finished third in 29:42.34.
Women’s 5 000m Final
1 Caster Semenya (Athletics Gauteng North) 15:52.28
2 Glenrose Xaba (Athletics Gauteng North) 15:55.25
3 Kyla Jacobs (Western Province Athletics) 16:11.53
4 Diana Lebo Phalula (Central Gauteng Athletics) 16:29.64
Men’s 10 000m Final
1 Mbuleli Mathanga (KwaZulu-Natal Athletics) 29:23.74
2 Adam Lipschitz (KwaZulu-Natal Athletics) 29:30.40
3 Elroy Gelant (Athletics Central North West) 29:42.34
4 Philani Buthelezi (Athletics Gauteng North) 29:46.06