Caster Semenya, the South African runner whose naturally high testosterone levels have placed a target on her back for international sporting officials, is hoping to focus on long-distance events for what's left of her career. This news comes months after a Swiss court ruled she could be legally barred from the Olympic track event she's dominated for close to a decade as a result of the chemicals in her body.
She's currently aiming for the 5,000-meter event at the Tokyo Games, with her latest attempt at qualification coming at the South African national championships on Thursday. She recorded a personal-best 15:52.28, but that time sits 42 seconds above the Olympic qualifying cutoff at 15:10.00. Semenya has until the end of June to qualify.
Just like international track officials, the calendar is not on her side. However, Semenya's improvement in this competition has been happening at a rather impressive pace. Her last performance, prior to Thursday's, at the 5,000m was 22 seconds slower, meaning it's not too far out of the realm of possibility for that qualification to happen.
This event was one of the few that Semenya, 30, was actually allowed to participate in following the World Athletics' judgment. Her testosterone levels, per the rules of the organization that were upheld in court, bar her from running anywhere between the 400-meter to the one-mile event. This leaves sprints such as the 100- and 200-meter, and then distance running.
"We had to look into‚ can we do 200 for the next five years? It was not really in our favor," Semenya said Thursday, per the Associated Press. "I'm getting old‚ I'm scared to tear my muscles. We had to sit down and make sure that the decision that we make makes sense. Distance makes sense."
Semenya's body has been subject to much scrutiny since her explosion onto the track scene in 2009 at an 800-meter event where she utterly smoked any and all competition. Since then, governing bodies have demanded she lower her naturally high testosterone -- it's worth noting that Semenya was assigned female at birth and has identified as female for her whole life -- through artificial means. She briefly complied, but after those methods began to result in injuries, she stopped.
The dispute resulted in a court case that eventually fell on the side of World Athletics in Sept. 2020, though she says she's still challenging the testosterone policy at the European Court of Human Rights.
The South African runner has dominated the World Championships in the 800-meter in 2009, 2011 and 2017, and also took gold at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics in that same event.