Caster through to semis at Championships

2011-09-01 12:56

The 20-year-old Semenya easily qualified for the semifinals at Daegu Stadium, finishing second in her heat in 2 minutes, 1.01 seconds.

After crossing the finish line, however, she reached down and grabbed her right knee.

“It’s fine,” Semenya said. “I’ll just go back and get ready for the next round.”

Semenya has been struggling for much of the year and was drawn in a heat alongside Mariya Savinova of Russia, who has the season’s top time.

Still, the South African led through much of the finishing straight and eased up at the end, allowing Savinova to cross first as both clocked the same time.

Janeth Jepkosgei Busienei of Kenya, the 2007 world champion, had the top time of 1:59.36.
In Daegu, Semenya is looking to show that her victory as a relatively unknown teenager in 2009 was no fluke.

She was forced out of competition for 11 months by the IAAF following gender tests, threatened to take the governing body to court, was cleared to run by the IAAF without explanation and then missed the 2010 Commonwealth Games with a back injury.

“I’m not under pressure,” Semenya said. “I want to go back and focus on the semifinals.”

Semenya has not come close to the blistering pace of 2009 since her return from the enforced layoff. The Pretoria-based athlete only twice ran under two minutes in her buildup and her season’s best 1:58.61 was still way off the 1:55.45 that won her gold two years ago in Berlin.

That form is unlikely to be good enough to retain her title.

In today’s heat, Semenya moved up to fourth place after the first lap. She briefly took the lead over the last 50m before easing up before the finish line.

Savinova, who looks to be Semenya’s main rival, has looked strong this season. She won the European Team Championships in June in 1:58.75.

Before the world’s press, the media-shy Semenya issued a statement denying reports of problems.

“The recent media reports that Caster Semenya is not ready to defend her world 800m title are untrue.

“Semenya remains disciplined, focused and excited about representing South Africa at the IAAF World Championships in South Korea,” the statement said, promising Semenya would put up “a strong fight in defence of her title”.

The semifinals of the women’s 800m will be held tomorrow with the final set for Sunday, the last day of competition.

Speaking SePedi to Caster Semenya
Daniel Mothowagae in Daegu

South African runner Caster Semenya walked past the crowd of waiting electronic and print media with “no interview” written all over her face after her first round qualifiers in the women’s 800m heats today.

Then I said “Bolela Mokgadi” – and she responded with a smile.

In her 43-second comment, she said: “Ke monate but ga ke batle go dira di interview tse di ngata. (I am easy but I don’t want to make too many interviews).

“The race was not a big deal and pace ya ka e ne e le sharp (my pace was right) to make the semifinals. I am concentrating on the next race now,” switching to English in mid-sentence as the international media moved closer.

But that was it for the non-SePedi-speaking foreign press.

Drama followed as a group of about 50 journalists pushed their tape recorders and microphones into my face to get me to translate what Semenya had just said.

“So you know each other well?” asked one French reporter.

“What language was that?” asked another excited German scribe.

A Brit jokingly said they were now looking forward to get more from Semenya in the semifinals tomorrow, but “only if you speak sePedi to her again”.

» Follow Mothowagae on twitter @DanieMothowagae for regular updates at Daegu 2011. Follow City Press @City_Press

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