LONDON – Caster Semenya may have crashed over the line in a mad dash for her world 1 500m bronze medal, but she never had a doubt she would clinch a spot on the podium.
The South African star added the 1 500m bronze to her 800m gold and silver from 2009 and 2011, setting her up for a rare double medal haul at the World Championships in London.
“I knew I was going to win a medal. It is not a big deal for me, I have the medal in the pocket,” Semenya said.
The 26-year-old’s high-spirited response did not quite tell the story of how she had to lay it all out on the track to squeeze into third by reducing British darling Laura Muir to fourth place.
It was a bitter battle as the two-lap specialist tussled with the best athletes in the world in the three-and-three-quarter lap race.
The front-runners took the race out in a relatively slow pace, allowing Semenya, who has a characteristically deadly kick in the 800m, a foot in the door.
The pace picked up a notch when Dutch middle-distance runner Sifan Hassan and Genzebe Dibaba produced a surge of speed with less than a lap to go.
Going into the home stretch, Semenya held on in fifth place as Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon pulled away with Hassan in tow.
Semenya and Jennifer Simpson raced almost shoulder to shoulder, with Hassan and Muir fading fast as they were approaching the line.
Semenya dipped just seven one-hundredths of a second ahead of Muir before taking a tumble, with Simpson’s gutsy run in the inside lane earning her the silver medal.
Kipyegon upgraded her silver from two years ago to win in 4:02.59, with Simpson in 4:02.76 and Semenya with 4:02.90 rounding off one of the best races of the championships.
“Obviously I knew what they were going to do. I made a mistake which I had to pay for, I am quite happy with the medal, and I couldn’t have asked for more,” Semenya said.
“I know I have the kick, so I just had to hold on to the finish line. Letting them stretch out for long was the biggest mistake.
“I tried to keep up with the pace, but I realised in the last 300m that I was too far back, and I had to pay the price.”
Semenya’s third-place finish is South Africa’s third medal of the championships, adding to long-jumpers Luvo Manyonga and Ruswahl Samaai’s respective gold and bronze medals.
Team South Africa are on the cusp of their greatest medal haul at the world championships as they look to surpass the two gold, silver, and bronze medals from Paris 2003.
Backing into the blocks in Tuesday night’s 400m final (10.52pm), defending champion Wayde van Niekerk is expected to win South Africa’s fourth medal.