LONDON – Eight years since Caster Semenya won her maiden world title in Berlin as a mere teenager, she will be looking to claim her second 800 metres crown in London today.
Shortly after winning her semi-final, the South African complimented the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Stadium crowd and they responded with a roar.
Semenya will tonight, at 9.10pm SA time, return to the stadium where she finished second behind disgraced Russian Mariya Savinova at the 2012 London Olympics.
This time the South African will be the resounding favourite as the 2016 Rio Olympics champion and primed by a streak of 18 finals wins.
Semenya waltzed into the final as the fastest qualifier of the semi-finals, clocking one minute, 58.90 seconds.
“The race was good, obviously be about a calculated run, especially the last 300 metres, which is the main thing for us now,” she said.
“There is a strong field and I just need to relax as much as I can so that I can do better in the final.”
The 26-year-old is on the cusp of claiming a rare 800m-1 500m gold-bronze double after attempting a similar feat to that of Russia’s Svetlana Masterkova at the 1999 world championships in Seville.
She may go into the race with an air of invincibility but she faces possibly the strongest field in years.
The eight finalists include some of the two-lap event’s finest athletes in years, among them Semenya’s fellow Rio Olympics medallists Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and Kenya’s Margaret Wambui.
Three of the athletes, including Semenya, rank among the top 20 on the 800m world all-time list.
Semenya, Niyonsaba and former youth and junior world champion Ajee Wilson of the United States raced to new personal bests at the Monaco Diamond League meeting last month, finishing first, second and third respectively.
“I am here to do my best and make it safe from the semi-finals,” Niyonsaba said after winning her semi-final.
“I do not know what to expect in the final, slow or a fast pace, but I am here to win, not to lose.”
Semenya won that Monaco race by shaving one one-hundredth of a second off her national record with a time of 1:55.27.
Niyonsaba followed hot on her heels with a new Burundian record of 1:55.47, with Wilson crossing the line in a new US two-lap mark of 1:55.61.
“The main thing for us now is that we have a strong field, but we’ll just try to relax as much as we can so we can do better in the final,” Semenya said.
“But you can’t tell much, you can’t underestimate your opponents, you can’t calculate or measure them. It’s just about trying to enjoy your race.”
Adding 2015 world silver medallist Melissa Bishop to the mix makes it one of the toughest 800m fields in years.
Meanwhile, the SA 4x400m relay team of Gena Lofstrand, Ariane Nel, Wenda Nel and Justine Palframan finished seventh in their heat yesterday in 3:37.82.
Close to the 250m mark Lofstrand, running the second leg, was impeded by a Bahamian athlete who fell. The SA team requested that they advanced to the next round due to obstruction, but lost the appeal.
“Someone fell behind me and it felt like I was going to go down as well, but I managed to stay up,” Lofstrand said.