Athletics

Caster Semenya has world record in sight

Star athlete targets 800m world best in Zurich on August 30

22 July 2018 - 00:00 By DAVID ISAACSON

Nothing seems to faze Caster Semenya.
Even when her flustered manager, Jukka Härkönen, rushed to her on Friday night, telling her that her kit had been stolen, she appeared nonchalant. C'est la vie.
A victorious Semenya was giving media interviews at the Stade Louis II in Monaco while Härkönen was looking for her bag in the nearby room where athletes' belongings were placed after each event.
"It's green," she had explained to him.
He returned a couple of minutes later insisting that it was missing and beckoning her to go inside to check for herself.
"Somebody stole her stuff," Härkönen said as he invited me to accompany them into the room so I could continue interviewing the middle-distance star.
Once inside, Semenya needed a split second to spot her bag.
"There it is, the green one," the 27-year-old said, walking over to retrieve it.
"That's not green," replied Härkönen, relieved. "That's yellow."
"This is green, not yellow," retorted Semenya.
It did look more yellow than green.There had been hopes she might break the 1min 53.26sec world 800m record that Jarmila Kratochvílová has owned since 1983, track and field's longest-standing barrier.
The only world mark to fall at the Herculis Diamond League meet was in the women's 3,000m steeplechase, Kenya's Beatrice Chepkoech clocking 8:44.32 to slash more than eight seconds off the previous best.
Semenya posted a 1:54.60 meet record for her 38th consecutive 800m win, just 0.35sec outside the national mark she set in Paris three weeks ago, but it was still the sixth-fastest effort of all time.
Härkönen told her that her pace from 450m to 600m "was wrong", and then tried to encourage her by reminding her of how Kenya's David Rudisha had broken the men's 800m world record in 2012.
"Don't worry, we'll get there," said Semenya.
"In Zurich," added Härkönen, referring to the Diamond League final on August 30.
"Of course, of course. Don't worry," added the smiling athlete, stepping closer and giving her mentor a reassuring hug.
Some observers believe the window for Semenya to make history is fast closing as the November 1 deadline the IAAF has set to implement its new rules on athletes with hyperandrogenism approaches.
Semenya is challenging the regulations at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland, and has asked they be suspended until the matter is decided.
Her future may be uncertain, but still Semenya is unfazed."I don't think about things that are happening next year. I'm focused on this year. We're not worried about next year, we focus on what we're doing now.
"I work on short-term goals. I'm thinking about the Diamond League final and we take it from there."
Her critics believe she gets an unfair advantage from elevated levels of naturally occurring testosterone, which the IAAF wants reduced through medication.
Whether she does benefit or not, the crowd didn't appear to care, screaming as loudly for her in the heat of battle as they had earlier in the evening for Chepkoech.
Semenya said her terrific form in 2018 had nothing to do with the IAAF's attempt to stifle her.
"I'm always motivated," said the 800m and 1500m Commonwealth Games champion. "It's not about the IAAF, man. It's about me doing what I can do best."
Semenya, putting on extra items of clothing over her running gear and swapping her spikes for shoes, got chatting with world 200m champion Ramil Guliyev.
He asked her about her time, and then he expressed unhappiness with his 19.99sec.But Guliyev had no complaint with his second spot behind American Noah Lyles, who dislodged South Africa's Clarence Munyai from the top of the 200m world list with his lightning 19.65.
Lyles disclosed afterwards that he had wanted to go faster than that, and then warned that he planned to annihilate Usain Bolt's 19.19 world record as well as Wayde van Niekerk's 30.81 300m world best.
"I think the world should be on world-record watch by 2020," said Lyles.
"I surprise myself so it might happen next year. But if everything goes the way it should by my calculations, then 2020."
And he's looking at more than simply breaking the records.
"I won't be satisfied with 19.19. I want to be the best there ever was - in the 100m, the 200m, the 300m.
"I don't even want to stop at world records, I want to push them to parts where the world hasn't gone. I want to run 18 seconds [in the 200m]. I think it's possible and I think that this generation can do it."
Lyles looks like the real deal, and South Africa's highly rated sprint contingent will have a tough time taming the young talent, who turned 21 two days before the meet.
Van Niekerk, the 200m world championship silver medallist, has a new rival when he returns from injury. And fans dreaming of a South African sprint revolution perhaps have reason to feel fazed.

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