EUGENE, Ore. — Caster Semenya finished 13th and failed to advance in the women’s 5,000 meters Wednesday at the world championships, an expected result for the South African who is barred from her best event because of rules that demand she take hormone-reducing drugs to enter certain races.
Semenya, who has two Olympic and three world titles in the 800 meters, has been kept out of that race in big events since 2019, after losing an appeal of a World Athletics regulation that made women with certain intersex condition ineligible for races of between 400 meters and one mile.
Semenya finished the 12 1/2-lap race, held on a blistering 91-degree (32 Celsius) afternoon, in 15 minutes, 46.12 seconds. That was 54 seconds behind the winner of the heat, Gudaf Tsegay of Ethiopia, and 53 seconds outside of the fifth and last automatic qualifying spot into the final.
The only surprise in any of that was that she came to Oregon to compete. Her personal best in the race is 15:31.50, which is outside the world-championships qualifying standard. But she moved into the race after some higher-ranked runners did not enter.
Her case is the most recognizable in a number of instances involving intersex and transgender athletes in sports. Semenya is not transgender, but her case carries strong implications for how transgender athletes are treated and classified.
World Athletics President Sebastian Coe, who has hinted that the rules could be updated later this year, but probably not in a way that would restore Semenya‘s eligibility in her best race, said science regarding the effects of testosterone on athletes has guided all World Athletics’ decisions.
“The issue for me is very simple,” Coe said in an interview the day before Semenya’s race. “Of course, I recognize that both with DSD and with transgender, these are societal issues. I don’t have the luxury, however, of being intimately involved in that debate. My responsibility is to protect the integrity of women’s sport.”
Semenya has been a vocal critic of the rules, most recently saying through her lawyer that they are “an affront to the spirit of the sport.”
Semenya hung in the middle of the lead pack of the 18-woman race for about three laps, then things started stringing out. Halfway through the 5,000 meters, she had fallen to 13th - racing in a group of three runners some 80 meters behind the lead group. With about three laps to go, Semenya was in a familiar place - running all alone on the track - but she was in 13th.
There were no runners within 50 meters of her on either side when she crossed the finish line to a notable burst of applause, same as she received when she was introduced at the starting line.
While most of the runners collapsed to the track at the end, Semenya paced around, breathing heavily, with her hands on her hips.
She high-fived a few of the runners, grabbed a wet towel to put on the back of her neck, then dug around in a cooler for something to drink before heading up a set of stairs that lead away from the track.
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