LONDON - World champion Caster Semenya has her sights on the more than three-decades old 800-metre world record held by former Czech athlete Jarmila Kratochvilova.
The South African won her third world title on Sunday evening, adding to the gold from Berlin 2009 and Daegu 2011 tying her with her former coach Maria Mutola of Mozambique at the top of the all-time 800m world championship honours board.
Although Semenya has always been reluctant to talk about her ambitions to break the world record, she admitted the global mark featured on her to-do list.
“The world record is achievable but it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to be able to run a fast time like that, and we haven’t planned to run faster than that,” Semenya said.
“I am in line to do that but I am a patient athlete and the most important thing is to win as much as I can, focusing more on winning medals.”
Crossing the line in a new South African record time of 1:55.16, she edged slightly closer to track and field’s longest standing record of 1:53.28.
Semenya moved into eighth place on the world all-time performer’s list as the second-fastest African athlete behind Kenya’s former champion, Pamela Jelimo, who holds the continental record of 1:54.01.
Semenya’s coach Jean Verster said breaking the record featured low on their list of priorities.
“For the last three years we’ve had this attitude of racing, and enjoying what we are doing and trying to win titles,” Verster said after his charge added the 800m gold to the 1500m bronze from earlier last week.
“I’m a firm believer that the time when it comes, she feels good at the moment. It’s almost impossible, that is such a quick record, if the race is quick and the other competitors are also going for it, if the pacemakers are going for it, she will make an attempt.”
Two of the athletes who could aid Semenya in a world-record attempt flanked her, sitting at the winners table on Sunday evening.
Olympic silver medallist Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and American middle-distance ace Ajee Wilson gave Semenya a good run for her money.
Niyonsaba had to be content with second place behind Semenya after she and Wilson took the race out fast.
Semenya had too much kick left in her legs, as she blew the duo off the track in the final 30 metres to bag the title.
Niyonsaba clocked 1:55.99, with Wilson rounding off the podium bagging bronze in 1:56.65.
Verster said before they could even consider the world record, Semenya would first have to dip below 1:55.
“It’s almost like baby steps, our first goal and I know the other girls as well, are all thinking ‘let’s get under 1:55 first’,” Verster said.
“If we can get somewhere below 1:55 then we know we are a bit closer, but only when there is good pacemaking, good weather, and the rest of the competition working together, we will see those 1:54s coming.”
Semenya was a relaxed figure at these championships, where she interacted with the crowd while she walked the gauntlet of awaiting journalists in the mixed zone.
After fielding questions at the post-race press conference, Semenya insisted that the media pose questions to Niyonsaba who was sitting quietly to her right.
A shy Niyonsaba playfully nudged Semenya for putting her in the spotlight.
“She (Semenya) is maturing as a person, and growing, I’ve said it many, many times that Caster is maybe one of the nicest people you would meet in your life,” Verster said.
“If people can only see the real Caster, they would also change their opinions.”