She won an historic triple gold at the South African championships in April, but Caster Semenya will focus on just one event for the Rio Olympics in August.
That was the word from her coach, Jean Verster, this week ahead of Sunday’s Diamond League meeting in Rabat, Morocco.
Semenya has participated in the 400m, 800m and 1 500m during 2016 in the build-up to the Olympics, and became the first ever athlete to win all three events at the same SA championships. In fact, the 25-year-old did on one magical Saturday in Stellenbosch as she rampaged to 50.74 in the 400m, 1:58.45 in the 800m and 4:10.93 in the 1 500m.
The 2009 world champion has told Independent Media that she was contemplating running in the 400m in Rio in addition to her specialist 800m event, but those plans have been scuppered by the programme schedule.
The 400m heats begin on Saturday, August 13, with the final on August 15, while the 800m first round takes place on Wednesday, August 17.
“No, it’s not going to be possible (to do both). You don’t want to take chances, so we won’t be going for the 400 as well. If the 800 had to be first at the Olympics, then of course, it wouldn’t have been a problem,” Verster told Independent Media.
“But the fact that the 800 is second, you don’t want to run the 400 before that in case something happens – you pick up an injury or something.”
So all eyes will be on Semenya in Rabat on Sunday, where she will hope to break through the one minute, 57-second barrier for the first time in 2016. Her season’s best of 1:58.26 came just two weeks ago at the opening Diamond League event in Doha, Qatar, where she cruised for most of the race before opening up on the home straight to win comfortably in the end.
“She ran in Doha and produced a 1:58.26, so things are going well. She trained hard this week, but also had to write a few exams, so she had a lot on her plate this week. She will be fine on Sunday,” Verster said.
“She is getting better. You know, her training is going much better than the races, so it will come through into the races sooner or later – the times will become even quicker.”
Semenya’s main competition on Sunday will be world champion Marina Arzamasova of Belarus, as well as Burundi’s world indoor champion Francine Niyonsaba (personal best of 1:56.59) and 2013 world champion Eunice Jepkoech Sum of Kenya (1:56.99).
So, there could be a quick time for Semenya in the offing, but Verster is not getting ahead of himself just yet, almost three months ahead of the Rio Olympics. “Man, you don’t actually know as at this stage, we are just planning for her to race and to participate, and not worry about times,” he said.
“So she is not going to go out and chase a fast time. It depends on the race – if it’s fast, then that’s good. If it’s not fast, she is not going to purposefully make it fast. It could be a race with a slow pace, so then she won’t run as fast.”
Apart from Semenya, there will be four other South African athletes competing in Rabat – 400m hurdles athlete Wenda Nel, 110m hurdler Antonio Alkana, 1 500m runner Dumisane Hlaselo and long jumper Ruswahl Samaai.
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