Caster Semenya celebrates after winning the gold medal in the women's 800-meter final at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London. Photo: AP Photo/Matt Dunham

JOHANNESBURG – Caster Semenya has called for more opportunities for local athletes and a more developmental approach to the selection of national teams ahead of her Liquid Telecom Athletix Grand Prix race in Pretoria on Thursday.

On Tuesday, the three-time world champion took up the plight of the fringe athletes that were let down by a system that seems to place a higher premium on excellence than on development.

“What is important is that we recognise our own athletes, and if you look at the statistics, it is improving. And the most important thing is to put those athletes that deserve it in the race first,” Semenya said

“If you pay attention more to our local athletes and expose them to good competition… You know charity begins at home, and if you can’t do it home, where can you do it?”

Using the Commonwealth Games team as an example, Semenya believes more athletes should have been selected for the sake of preparing them for the Olympic Games.

Only 13 track and field athletes were initially selected for the quadrennial showpiece, but 10 athletes have been included over the last two weeks.

“I always repeat, it is about development, development. With the criteria we have at the moment, it is very tough for some of the athletes. If you look at the Commonwealth team, it is very small,” Semenya said.

“We have to make sure our own athletes reach the standard, and if you look at the top 10 in the Commonwealth, you are able to compete. But to me, it is not necessarily important.

“For you to make the Olympic team, you need experience, so you need to race at South African champs, at Southern Regions and African Championships.”

Semenya will be lining up in the infrequently run 1 000m, where she has set her sights on breaking Ilse de Kock-Wicksell’s national record of 2:37.2 from 1983.

The South African 800m record-holder may just have a realistic chance of breaking the record, with two strong Ugandan challengers, Winnie Nanyondo and Halimah Nakaayi, lining up against her.

Nakaayi (left), Semenya and Nanyondo (right) pose for a picture ahead of Thursday's race. Photo: Tobias Ginsberg
Nakaayi (left), Semenya and Nanyondo (right) pose for a picture ahead of Thursday's race. Photo: Tobias Ginsberg/Athletics SA

“If the splits go in your favour, we would go to that, we would practice the splits. I am more mature and I understand how the splits are allocated and how I need to run,” Semenya said.

“I’ll focus more on the 800 metres, and I will know when I hit the two-lap mark the South African record is gone, so the target is to go at least two minutes or under, which would determine how fast we would go.

“You never know how fast you can go over your last 200m, but I definitely think it is going down.”

Semenya on Tuesday unveiled Samuel Sepeng, the brother of 1996 Olympic 800m silver medallist Hezekiel, as her new coach.

Sepeng has been acting as Semenya’s pacesetter during her training sessions in Potchefstroom, while he was also coached by her former mentor Jean Verster.

“The new coach is Samuel Sepeng. I’ve been working with him in Potchefstroom and he will take over now.

“Jean, of course, has family in Potchefstroom, so it is not personal, it is just business,” Semenya said.


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