On Friday in Doha, Caster Semenya made a statement before she ever said a word, winning her 30th consecutive 800-meter race by almost three seconds. It was a dominating performance at the first Diamond League meet of the season, showing perseverance coming off a dramatic week for the athlete.
“Actions speak louder than words,” Semenya said to reporters after the race, according to the Guardian. “When you are a great champion, you always deliver. No man, or any other human, can stop me from running.”
— Runner (leaving some) Space (@runnerspace) May 3, 2019
It may have been the last time we see Semenya, an Olympic and world champion from South Africa, race the two-lap event, which she won in 1:54.98, a meet record and world-leading time this season. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on Wednesday ruled that female athletes like Semenya, who have high levels of naturally occurring testosterone, will have to suppress those levels with medication or surgery in order to compete in specified track events from the 400 meters to one mile.
The policy will be enacted beginning May 8 by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). Semenya has a condition called hyperandrogenism that produces high levels of naturally occurring testosterone. She had filed the appeal against the IAAF policy, announced a year ago, which restricts women with testosterone levels of five nanomoles per liter (nmol/L) or above from competing against other women in the 400 meters, 400-meter hurdles, 800 meters, 1500 meters, and one-mile—distances that IAAF-sponsored research show a performance advantage for athletes with “differences of sexual development.” (DSD).
After the race on Friday, Caster, 28, answered, “hell no” when a reporter from the Daily Mail asked if she’d take medication to continue competing in the 800 meters. Although it remains unclear if her lawyers will appeal the CAS decision, the Telegraph said that Semenya does not plan to move up to the 5,000 meters, either, which remains an unrestricted event for women.
“For me, I believe nothing is hard in life because it is up to you how you take life,” Semenya said on Friday. “As an athlete, I believe in sportsmanship and what sports teaches you is to keep pushing on despite all odds. I know life could be difficult at times but I’m a believer and I believe there is always a way to resolve issues. One of my firm belief is that there is always a way out for everything. So if a wall is placed in front of me, I jump it. I’m going to keep enjoying my life and live it. I will keep on training and running. To me, impossibility is nothing.”
The Fight is Not Over: WSF and @AthleteAlly release joint statement on this morning's CAS ruling.
— Women's Sports Foundation (@WomensSportsFdn) May 1, 2019
The court said the IAAF’s research did not support the theory that DSD women gain an unfair advantage in the 1500 meters or the mile, asking the IAAF to reconsider whether it would include those distances in the policy. Sebastian Coe, president of the IAAF, was asked at a press conference on Thursday in Doha if the IAAF is considering dropping the 1500 meters and mile from the rule. He said, “no.”
CAS also agreed with Semenya that the policy is discriminatory, but in its 2-1 split decision explained, “the majority of the panel found that, on the basis of evidence submitted by the parties, such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics in the restricted events.”
Semenya is not the only athlete who competes in the 800 meters who may be affected by the rule. On Friday in Doha, Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi was second in 1:57.75—in April she told the Olympic channel that she has the same condition. Niyonsaba, a member of the Oregon Track Club in Eugene, Oregon, is an Olympic and world championships silver medalist in the 800 meters.
Following the CAS decision this week, many expressed admiration for Semenya, touting her strength and grace under enormous criticism and scrutiny. Eleanor Fulton, who recently ran the world cross country championships for Team USA, for example, tweeted that her perspective on the matter has evolved.
“There is no win in this situation, but Caster never had a choice in her biological makeup, and that’s important,” Fulton wrote. “Sport is amazing, but is it worth stripping people of their dignity and humanity?”
She continued: “There is a paradigm in sport of winning fairly. Is a victory over a medically manipulated Caster an actual victory?”