Tag Archives: Caster Semenya

Francine Niyonsaba’s reinvention as a world-beating distance runner

With her performances in 2021, the Burundi has impressively moved up from 800m to longer distances.

But will her record-breaking feats accelerate change which could end her career? The message dropped into my email inbox. My request to interview Francine Niyonsaba had been approved, but with one condition – I was not allowed to ask her about the increasingly hot topic of differences in sex development (DSD).

We might not have spoken about the subject directly, but it never felt far away during the conversation and there has barely been a performance from the Burundian this year which has gone by without a related comment being made.

That is because those performances have been so good. She became the first athlete who identifies as having DSD to officially break a world record when clocking 5:21.26 for 2000m to take over two seconds from the former mark.

It ended a season of high achievement which included the 5000m Diamond League title and the fifth-fastest 3000m time in history. Not bad for someone who is pretty new to the distance running game.

Francine Niyonsaba leads Ejgayehu Taye (Diamond League AG)

That she is running further, of course, is not through choice. The two-time world indoor champion as well as Olympic and world silver medallist for 800m can no longer compete at her favoured event under the World Athletics rules, upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which came into force in 2019 and were famously challenged by Caster Semenya.

They decree that DSD athletes are not allowed to compete internationally between 400m and a mile unless they take medication to reduce their high levels of testosterone.

Niyonsaba’s performances – she was also fifth in the Olympic 10,000m final in Tokyo in what was just her second time racing the distance – and those of the Olympic silver medal-winning, world junior record-breaking sprinter Christine Mboma over 200m have raised questions as to whether or not the rules should widen out to other events. As Sean Ingle of The Guardian wrote, those athletes are “faced with a devilish catch-22.

The faster she [Mboma] runs, the more she provides evidence that she has an unfair advantage as an athlete with DSD”. Understandably, Niyonsaba does not want to fuel any fire but, at the same time, she is very clearly making a point. “They tried to stop me.

Tried to end my dreams,” she tweeted after her 5000m Diamond League victory in Zurich. “But how could I allow them to snatch my dreams away? So I worked hard and resisted those forces who tried to stop me. And here I am!” Speaking with her, there is an apparent determination rather than bitterness. A preference to accentuate the positive.

Asked if she would like to return to the 800m, Niyonsaba is short and to the point. “I would never go back. I keep looking forward.”

Francine Niyonsaba wins the 2018 world indoor 800m (Mark Shearman)

Even when quizzed as to the two-lap performance (and there have been many) of which she is most proud, the 28-year-old replies: “I have forgotten about the 800m because I am now focusing on the longer distances.

“Since I was born I have not had an easy life and I love challenges. I face them with a lot of determination and perseverance. To transform myself from 800m to longer distances was not easy. “I think life is full of challenges but I always say that the challenge is not a barrier but an opportunity to do better.

I still do not know if I like the long distance more than the 800m, but I love challenges. “I won’t think too much about it because it is what it is. At first it was not easy and I got a lot of injuries but I kept believing in myself.”

She adds: “I don’t know [if I will be better at 5000m or 10,000m] but I just love running long distances. Every moment I’m racing, or training, I just love running and I’m happy doing what I do. I am going to keep training hard, trying to perform well.

The good thing about it is that I have a lot to improve – I’m still learning and am sure that I can go a lot faster in the future.”

Francine Niyonsaba (Getty)

Having spent much of her career based in Oregon, Niyonsaba has now relocated to train in Kenya “because Kenyans are often champions in the longer distance”.

There is excitement about returning to the west coast of America for next year’s World Championships. “Eugene will feel like home,” she says. “To be back in Eugene for the World Championship would be fantastic for me and I hope I will be there.”

World Athletics president Seb Coe insists the DSD rules are “here to stay”. But will they have changed by the time Oregon comes around? What’s for certain is that this is an issue which is not going away any time soon.

Source: athleticsweekly.com

Christine Mboma sets junior world record in Zurich

Namibian teenage sensation Christine Mboma, continued her sparkling season with victory in the 200m that was held at the finals of the Wanda Diamond League series that was held on Thursday (9) night in Zurich.

Mboma set a new junior world record on Thursday night when she won the women’s 200m final at Wanda Diamond League held at the Weltklasse meeting.

The Namibian athlete clocked 21.78 seconds to set a new junior world record and beat a strong field that included Shericka Jackson of Jamaica and Great Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith.

Jackson was relegated to second place, with a personal-best time of 21.81 seconds followed by Asher-Smith in third place after clocking 22.19.

Mboma is classified as having Differences in sexual development (DSD) — or being an “intersex” athlete — with naturally high testosterone levels and is thus barred from her chosen event, the 400m.

This regulations barred the female athletes – including South African star Caster Semenya — who have what the athletics body called “high levels of endogenous testosterone” from competing on the international stage unless they maintained low blood testosterone levels.

Blood serum tests conducted in June confirmed that both Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi had levels of endogenous testosterone above the World Athletics-mandated limit of 5 nanomoles of serum testosterone per litre.

They were forced to stop competing in 400m races and have since been running in 200m dashes.


Testosterone Again

In the first 2-mile race of her professional career, Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba beat Ethiopia’s 5000m world record holder Letesenbet Gidey by six seconds in Friday’s women’s 2-mile at the Prefontaine Classic in a Hayward Field record of 9:00.75, less than two seconds off Meseret Defar’s world record.

Question: should this result reopen the conversation regarding high-testosterone in women’s athletics, or does it simply represent a particularly full-ranged athlete in top form? After all, Niyonsaba placed 5th in the Tokyo Olympic 10,000m final in 30:41.93.

Acknowledging her hyperandrogegism in 2019, Ms. Niyonsaba, the 2016 Rio Olympic 800m silver medalist, was among a handful of athletes (most famously South Africa’s Caster Semenya) forced to abandon their primary racing distances (400m up to the mile) in light of new World Athletics rules governing athletes with naturally high testosterone levels competing in those races.

Caster Semenya (center), 2016 Olympic silver medalist Francine Niyonsaba (left) and bronze medalist Margaret Wambui would be denied a potential rematch in Tokyo at 800 meters because of the regulations Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The World Athletics Council approved new eligibility rules at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Qatar. The new rules required female athletes with naturally high testosterone levels, as well as transgender female athletes, to lower their testosterone concentration levels to a new limit of less than 5 nanomoles per liter of blood to “bring them back into a competitive balance”.

That new < 5 nmol/L limit would then have to be maintained continuously for a period of at least 12 months prior to an athlete being declared eligible for competition in the 400m to 1-mile. The previous limit was < 10 nmol/L But those lower levels would not be necessary for races contested below 400m or above the mile.

I was never good at math, so this new equation meant to represent “competitive balance” had me a bit flummoxed.

When you Google “normal testosterone measurements for females”, you discover values scaling between 0.52 to 2.43 nmol/L.  (Normal men range from 7.7 – 29.4 nmol/L).

My math-challenged male brain then wondered why an allowance nearly twice the high end of the normal limit (5.0 vs. 2.4) could be considered as “competitive balance” as it seemed decidedly imbalanced.

Why isn’t the appropriate new level for High-T and transgender females within the “normal range” topping out at 2.43 nmol/L, or rounded off at 2.50?  The answer World Athletics gave is that < 5 nmol/L is the number because that is the highest possible level that a healthy woman with ovaries would have.

Alright, but should the highest possible value become the new standard if the goal is to achieve “competitive balance”, especially if that number involves a very small but important segment of the racing population?

While that new standard may well produce an equilibrium, it’s hardly an even balance. In fact, you could argue that with no policy at all the sport had achieved equilibrium. A decidedly imbalanced one, mind you, but an equilibrium nonetheless.

Why should athletes within the normal range of 0.5 – 2.4 nmol/L be expected to compete fairly with athletes with essentially double their testosterone levels (5.0)? So they lose by, what, a lesser but still substantial margin?

Also, if regulators expect transgender or high-T females to reduce to a certain level, why not allow the non high-T or transgender athletes to go up to the same < 5.0 nmol/L limit that their high-T/transgender competitors have to come down to, all in the interest of fairness?

If World Athletics now requires drug use to lower certain athletes’ lab levels – call it performance-restricting drug use – then drug taking per se doesn’t seem to be the primary issue at hand anymore. Rather, it is the level of testosterone concentration in the athletes that officials are most concerned about.

So why not test everyone, and put them all in a similar range? If < 5 nmol/L is the number, then that’s the number for everybody. Those too high have to come down, but those below are allowed to come up.

We always talk about the winners and try to control their advantages. Why don’t we talk about the non-winners and make compensations from that end of the spectrum, too?

As always, just asking.

Source: tonireavis.com

Caster Semenya’s lawyers want answers from World Athletics after ‘misleading’ study stopped her competing

Caster Semenya’s lawyers have questioned why World Athletics have waited until after the Tokyo Olympics before releasing a bombshell report that admits the findings that triggered controversial regulations banning women with naturally elevated testosterone from international events are “misleading”.

Semenya was not allowed to defend her double Olympic 800 metres title in Tokyo under rules prohibiting athletes with Differences of Sexual Development (DSD) from competing at distances from 400m to one mile unless they take hormone-lowering medication.

But World Athletics are facing fresh calls from her legal representatives to scrap the regulation after the governing body’s scientists admitted their findings are based on evidence that was “exploratory, nothing else”.

That ruling was based on evidence published by two World Athletics scientists in 2017, which found a performance increase in females with high testosterone levels over those with low levels of 1.8 per cent for 800m and 2.7 per cent for 400m.

However, the British Journal of Sports Medicine – which published the original evidence – has now released a “correction” to that 2017 paper, causing campaigners to argue the rules should be ditched immediately. Semenya’s lawyers have also questioned why it was not released until days after the Olympics concluded.

Discussing potential links between high levels of testosterone and improved performance in women, Stephane Bermon, director of World Athletics’ Health and Science Department, and his predecessor Pierre-Yves Garnier, wrote: “To be explicit, there is no confirmatory evidence for causality in the observed relationships reported. We acknowledge that our 2017 study was exploratory.”

They add: “With this in mind, we recognise that statements in the paper could have been misleading by implying a causal inference.

“Specifically, ‘Female athletes with high fT [testosterone] levels have a significant competitive advantage over those with low fT in 400 m, 400 m hurdles, 800 m, hammer throw, and pole vault.’

“This statement should be amended to: ‘High fT levels in female athletes were associated with higher athletic performance over those with low fT in 400 m, 400 m hurdles, 800 m, hammer throw, and pole vault.’”

The scientists conclude that their findings are “on a lower level of evidence” and should be viewed as “exploratory, nothing else, that is, not confirmatory or evidence for a causal relationship.”

Semenya was absent from the recent Tokyo Olympics after unsuccessful challenges against the regulations at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and Switzerland’s supreme court. She is currently awaiting a hearing at the European Court of Human Rights, although World Athletics has argued it would not be bound by any ruling dished out. The new report, however, raises serious questions about why this clarification was not made before the recent Olympic Games, which concluded just nine days before it was made public.

“This is very significant new information,” Semenya’s lawyer Gregory Nott, of Norton Rose Fulbright, told Telegraph Sport.

“We are in the midst of the European Court of Human Rights case and will be discussing with our London QC and the whole legal team how to introduce the information into the proceedings.

“World Athletics have recently given notice of their wish to intervene in the European Court of Human Rights proceedings and we would hope that they will now support setting aside the regulations.

“It is more than surprising that World Athletics did not reveal this evidence before the recent Tokyo Olympics and allow Caster to defend her 800m title.”

Roger Pielke Jr, one of three scientists who published a 2019 International Sports Law Journal paper arguing the original World Athletics evidence was “flawed”, also said the latest admission meant the rules should be suspended immediately.

“Corrections are common in research, as scientists are human and make mistakes, like anyone else,” he said. “But one of the most important features of science is that it is self-correcting, and mistakes are identified, admitted and corrected.

“But the correction published today is not simply the admission of an error in an inconsequential paper, it is an admission of error by World Athletics in the only empirical analysis which underpins its eligibility regulations for female athletes. The implications are massive.”

He added: “The correction offered today provides a very public test of the integrity of World Athletics. The organisation chose to base its regulation on a set of scientific claims. It now admits that those claims were wrong and potentially misleading.

“Doing the right thing in support of the athletes that it represents means changing course when the facts warrant.”

America’s triple Olympic champion Tianna Bartoletta said: “Improve the studies. And let that govern the policy. That’s not what they did though. And that’s what I’ve been angry about.

“I believe in not manipulating science, and I will accept what it tells me even if my heart feels differently. From the beginning they wanted a specific outcome and that’s not right.”

The Telegraph has contacted World Athletics for comment.

World Athletics president Seb Coe earlier this month said Christine Mboma’s surprise Olympic 200m silver medal showed the governing body was right to crack down on women with naturally elevated testosterone levels.

In April, Namibian 18-year-old Mboma ran the second-fastest 400m time in the world this year, only to then be told a fortnight before the Tokyo Games that she was banned from contesting the event due to her DSD status.

She made a late switch to the 200m and broke the world under-20 record with a jet-heeled late surge in the final to claim Olympic silver in Tokyo.

“It was pretty observable that [Mboma’s] last 30 or 40 metres were impactful,” said Coe. “But, actually, I think that vindicated the decision about the 400m. If you are finishing a 200m like that, it supports the judgement that was made.”

Upholding the rules in 2019, the CAS admitted the regulations were “discriminatory” and it had “serious concerns” over their application. However, it ruled that “such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means… of preserving the integrity of female athletics”.

Source: telegraph.co.uk

Namibian sprinters resurrect ‘paradox’ of DSD rules

The presence of Namibian teenagers Beatrice Masilingi and Christine Mboma in the Olympic women’s 200 metres final weeks after they were banned from the 400m due to excess levels of testosterone has reopened the debate about DSD athletes.

The two 18-year-olds are the latest to fall foul of the rules regarding female athletes with Differences of Sexual Development (DSD) after more than a decade of the sport’s authorities wrestling with the issue.

A DSD or intersex athlete is broadly described as one who has XY sex chromosomes, has a blood testosterone level in the male range and has the ability to use testosterone circulating within their bodies.

World Athletics (WA) tried to find a way to restrict such athletes from taking part in women’s races in a bid to protect what they described as the “level playing field”, bringing about the Hyperandrogenism Regulations in 2011, which set a testosterone limit for women athletes.

Indian sprinter Dutee Chand challenged the rules at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in 2015, and CAS suspended them, asking WA to produce evidence that increased testosterone levels gave athletes an advantage.

In the meantime, with the rules lifted, Caster Semenya and others were able to return to the track, with three DSD athletes sweeping the 800m medals at the Rio Olympics.

WA returned with data, widely criticised by some in the scientific community, to show there was an advantage in events ranging from 400m to a mile. They believed there was an advantage in longer and shorter events, but could not back it up, and reserved the right to add further events once they had more evidence.

CAS accepted this and in 2018, a new version of the rules banned DSD athletes from competing in races within that range, unless they took testosterone-reducing medication for at least six months beforehand.


South African Semenya had been at the forefront of the battle since she blazed onto the scene by winning the 800m at 2009 world championships as an 18-year-old, and was immediately consumed by the debate over her gender status.

After she was banned, she initially followed that medical route but saw a marked deterioration in her performances, and instead returned to fighting for the right to race in her natural state.

She lost that battle – all three 800m medallists from Rio are banned from Tokyo – despite widespread support from the South African government, who claimed the rules were discriminatory towards African athletes, and others who argued they were a violation of her human rights.

CAS agreed the DSD rules were discriminatory but crucially ruled that the discrimination was “necessary, reasonable and proportionate to protect the integrity of female athletics”.

WA had always said it was fundamentally impossible to find a solution that would satisfy both sides, and came down in support of the tens of thousands of female athletes around the world at the expense of the limited number of DSD athletes.

“It is a sensitive issue but there are some contexts, sport being one of them, where biology has to trump identity,” WA said.

The issue appeared to have gone quiet after Semenya lost her latest court battle in Switzerland, but it re-emerged in June when Masilingi and Mboma, who had been in sparkling form on the European circuit, were withdrawn from the Tokyo 400m events after tests revealed above-regulation levels of testosterone.

They entered the 200m instead and have twice posted personal best times – Mboma’s 21.97 seconds being an under-20 world record – to reach Tuesday’s final.

“The paradox in action … where we know that testosterone confers advantages in all events, but the policy implies it exists only in some,” wrote South African sports scientist Ross Tucker in his Science of Sport blog.

“Thus an athlete is legal one day, illegal the next, depending on the event,” added Tucker, who described WA’s original study as “poorly conceived … and very (very, very) weak on the evidence.”

Nike Advert Addresses Semenya’s Discrimination

Nike has done on an advert on double Olympic and triple world champion South Africa’s Caster Semenya to celebrate her success and address her testosterone controversy.

Nike has featured Semenya as part of its 30th anniversary of their famous slogan ‘Just Do It’.

Semenya’s “resilience” to attempts in the past to sideline her from women’s sport underpins her voice-over in the 45-seconds long advert posted on Monday.

Semenya is heard asking:

“Would it be easier for you if I wasn’t so fast?” she says.

“Would it be simpler if I stopped winning?

“Would you be more comfortable if I was less proud?

“Would you prefer if I hadn’t worked so hard, or just didn’t run?

“Or chose a different sport?

“Or stopped at my first steps?

“That’s too bad because I was born to do this.

For 30 years, the “Just Do It” mantra has been a motivational call for athletes worldwide, across all sports, and all levels of play.

Narrated by American football player Colin Kaepernick, “Dream Crazy” provides encouragement to everyone who has crazy dreams and goals that may seem challenging.

Nike says that they hope the series of films will show a “sense of persistence”.

In 2009, Semenya was subjected to sex testing and is currently appealing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport against the new International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) rules on testosterone levels in female athletes.

The rules, for between 400m and the mile, are scheduled to come into effect in November 1 and would require Semenya to take a  tablet to lower her testosterone levels or look to compete against men.

In response to the ruling, Human Rights Watch published an open letter in which they said that this equates to discrimination against women with “differences of sex development”.

The IAAF has defended its stance, however, and insists they are creating a level playing field.

To celebrate that rich diversity, Nike has developed a series of “short films” in the JDI series.

“Dream Crazy,” focuses on a collection of stories that represent athletes who are household names and those who should be. The common denominator: All leverage the power of sport to move the world forward.

Along with inspirational pros — Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge, LeBron James, Serena Williams, Odell Beckham Jr.,— in this film, you’ll meet incredible athletes who include 29-year-old basketball phenom and wheelchair athlete Megan Blunk, who took gold in Rio in 2016.

Others are Isaiah Bird, who was born without legs, and at 10 years old has become the one to beat on his wrestling team and Charlie Jabaley — an Ironman who made over his life by dropping 120 pounds, by being a vegetarian, and in the process, reversed the growth of a life-long brain tumor.

Michigander Alicia Woollcott, who simultaneously played linebacker and was named homecoming queen during her high school senior season has also been featured.

Additional appearances are made by emerging professional athletes and world champions alike: Canadian soccer star Alphonso Davies; Hawaiian big wave surfer Kai Lenny, American skateboarders Lacey Baker and Nyjah Husto, German champion boxer Zeina Nassar and U.S. Soccer’s Women’s National Team.

Semenya slams critics, stars in touching Nike Ad

Nike has honoured South Africa’s 800m Olympic and World Champion Caster Semenya with her very own #justdoit campaign to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their famous slogan.

Following adverts for controversial American footballer Colin Kaepernick – as well as sporting legends like tennis star Serena Williams and basketball legend LeBron James – the American sportswear giant has now included Semenya.

On Sunday, Semenya raced to her 29th consecutive 800m win over a three-year period when she won the event at the IAAF Continental Cup in Ostrava.

The 27-year-old recently appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to challenge upcoming International Athletics Federation (IAAF) rules on testosterone levels in female athletes.

These rules are scheduled to go into effect in November 2018 and would require Semenya to take a tablet to lower her naturally occurring testosterone levels.

But in the Nike advert, she is as feisty as ever.

“Will it be easier for you if I wasn’t so fast? Will it be simpler if I stop winning? Would you be more comfortable if I was less proud? 

“Would you prefer if I hadn’t worked so hard? Or just didn’t love it? Or stopped at my first steps?

“That’s too bad, because I was born to do this…”


Caster Semenya gives Africa silver medal in 400m race at Continental Cup

Caster Semenya added another silverware to team Africa in the 400m race at the on going Continental Cup in Ostrava.

The race was won by Salwa Eid Naser representing team Asia-Pacific when she beat the Africa’s finest in 800m, Semenya to second place when she crossed the line in 49:39.

Naser dominated the race, setting off at a fast pace and looked like the runaway winner by the time the runners entered the finishing straight. Semenya closed the gap significantly in the final 50m, but was still well beaten into second. The South African, went home with another 400m national record.

Jamaica’s Stephenie-Ann McPherson came home in third place in 50.82.

Semenya set to attempt triple in Ostrava

After speeding to her hat-trick of Diamond League titles this week, Caster Semenya is gunning for one that is missing from her collection of major medals – the International Association of Athletics Federations(IAAF) Continental Cup.

The 27-year-old is set to attempt a triple at the two-day Czech Republic competition, which starts on Saturday. She has entered the 400m, 800m and the 4x400m relay races.

She is one of 20 South Africans who have been drafted to the 74-member Team Africa squad.

However, before her long trek to represent the continent in Ostrava, Semenya will make a stop at the IAAF World Challenge meeting in Berlin, Germany, today to take part in the rarely-run 1 000m.

“The 1 000m is part of my training programme because I think we have done a good job throughout the season. We don’t want to strain the body,” she said shortly after sealing her Diamond coronation at Stadion Letzigrund in Zurich on Thursday.

“In Ostrava, we’ll start with the 400m, which is more of a technical event; you need to focus on your (starting) block and your drive, and keep up the pace and see what you can come up with.

“We focus more on the 400m and nothing else because the 800m is not much of a problem. But I’m up to the challenge,” she said.

Semenya said that what mattered was maintaining consistency.

“We are consistent and that’s what the coach (Samuel Sepeng) needs. Now it’s about being smart and healthy. We’re human and not machines,” she said.

Berlin holds bittersweet memories for Semenya as it was in this German city where she came to prominence as an 18-year-old world champion at the 2009 World Championships.

Her feat, however, catapulted her into the international spotlight following a gender row that refuses to go away.

“Berlin is more like my second home because I won my first (senior major title) there,” she said.

“The 1 000m is just to have fun and improve on my time. A good 800m runner knows what to do. I don’t want to put myself under pressure, but Berlin expects me to do well and I cannot disappoint them.”

Semenya, who holds South African records in the 400m, the 800m and the 1 500m, boasts a personal best time of 2:35.43 in the 1 000m – which she set in March.

The reigning world and Olympic champion had a stellar season despite being followed by fresh scrutiny as, on November 1 the IAAF is set to implement new eligibility regulations regarding naturally high testosterone levels in women athletes.

The new regulations are widely believed to be targeting Semenya.

She has refused to comment on this subject, but has lodged an appeal before the Court of Arbitration for Sport to challenge the IAAF.

Semenya will run the 4x400m relay in Ostrava with compatriot Thapelo Phora and Botswana’s Baboloki Thebe as her team-mates.

Source: sport24.co.za