STOCKHOLM – Caster Semenya's shadow will hang over the Diamond League meeting in Stockholm on Thursday even though the double Olympic 800 metres champion will be absent.
The South African announced Wednesday she is launching a new appeal in the Swiss courts against new rules that would force her to take medication to lower her testosterone levels.
The issue of Semenya's hyperandrogenism and the rules put in place by the sport's governing body to try to create a “level playing field” seem likely to dominate the sport in a season that stretches until late September when the world championships take place in Doha.
“I am a woman and I am a world-class athlete. The IAAF will not drug me or stop me from being who I am,” Semenya, 28, said on Wednesday in a statement confirming she is taking her appeal to Switzerland's top court.
Semenya lost her first appeal, to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in the Swiss city of Lausanne.
This highly polarising issue will be especially highlighted in Stockholm's venerable Olympic stadium as it hosts the first Diamond League 800m race since the new ruling came into force.
Not only will Semenya be missing but the two women who finished behind her at the Rio Olympics, Burundi's Francine Niyonsaba and Margaret Wambui of Kenya will also be absent because they are all affected by the new rules.
Wambui told AFP this month she is demoralised by the rule and is, for now, refusing to undergo the testosterone-lowering treatment.
“I don't feel even like going on with the training because you don't know what you are training for,” she said.
Away from the legal challenges, Semenya's answer on the track has been to shift up to distances not covered by the new regulations. She will run over 2,000m in Montreuil outside Paris on June 11 before attempting the 3,000m at the Prefontaine meeting in the US on June 30.
Rapid sprints in store
Some athletes admit they are disturbed by the Semenya case.
“The idea is not to be the best by default because victory just doesn't have the same meaning in that case,” France's Olympic discus silver medallist Melina Robert-Michon said. “Asking someone to take medication is very intrusive for a woman but I can understand that (Semenya's) opponents wonder about her.”
On the track, the Stockholm meeting features British sprinter Dina Asher-Smith, the fastest woman in the world this year over 200m after posting 22.26sec in the Doha Diamond League meeting.
She faces Elaine Thompson, the Jamaican who completed an Olympic sprint double in Rio and who is gradually returning to top form after an injury-shortened 2018.
Michael Norman, the American 400m specialist who recorded a sensational 43.45sec in April, equalling the fourth-fastest time in history, goes over the one-lap distance.
Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway, the darling of European middle-distance running, faces a high-quality field including his two brothers in the men's 1,500m.