Caster Semenya gets through semi-finals looking every bit a medallist

2009-08-18 00:00

SOUTH Africa’s Caster Semenya looked every bit the medallist when qualifying through her 800 m semi-final at the 12th World Athletics Championships in Berlin last night.

The 18-year-old adopted similar tactics to the first round, sitting in behind first lap leader Tetliana Petlyuk, the 2008 World Indoor Champion. As the bell rang in 58,11 seconds, Semenya moved to the front, responding to all attempts to chase. The Polokwane-based athlete crossed the line in 1:58,66, silencing any doubts that her 1:56,72 in African Junior Championship was a fluke.

“When I woke this morning I knew my leg was fine. I knew I could run to win,” said Semenya, who will determine her final tactics with her coach Michael Seme tonight. “Coach told me to only think about the semis so I will talk to him [by phone to South Africa] tonight about the finals.”

Defending World Champion, Janeth Jepkosgei, who fell in Semenya’s first round heat and was reinstated for the semis, held on for third behin­d the fast finishing Jennifer Meadows from Britain in 1:59,47.

The time was only just enough for the Kenyan to fill the first of the fastest qualifiers. “I’m not happy [about the race] but I’m in the final.”

Even her strongest opposition is wary of the new kid on the block.

“A fast race suits me, but anything can happen in the final. I think the South African could give me problems,” said the Kenyan

There is a coolness about this sprinter turned middle distance athlete, who sat on the lane box waiting the call to order. “I’m comfortable with the championships, but anyone can give me problems [in the race], because when I’m racing I’m thinking about my own race, I’m not thinking about anyone else.” These are mature words for a novice at this level, but display an attitude that makes tomorrow night’s final a must-see.

The semi-final journey was not comfortable for Peter van der Westhuizen, whose fast start put him out in front of the first of three semi-finals. Forced into front-running, the Kempton Park man took the field through to the bell, when Frenchman Mehdi Baala took to the front with Americans Bernard Lagat and Lopez Lomong wasting no time in following the lead. By the final bend, Van der Westhuizen had been swallowed up and spat out the rear of the field facing a hopeless task. Morrocan Amin Laalou pulled the five qualifiers through in 3:36,68.

“I don’t know what I could have done differently. It’s not where I wanted to be [at the front]. I had a better chance of a fast race, even though I sacrificed myself doing it; it was still the better shot for me,” said Van der Westhuizen, who has little reason to be disappointed in his first major championship.

South African attention moves forward to tonight’s 3 000 m steeplechase, where Ruben Ramolefi faces a 15-strong field. The Kenyans have dominated this event with defending world champion Brimin Kipruto, 2004 Olympic Champion and current world leader Ezekiel Kemboi and Paul Koech, who has cracked eight minutes six times, providing an awesome trio to tackle.

Add in Frenchman Bouabdella Tahri and fifth ranked Tareq Mubrak and the South African has a mountain to climb. That said, Ramolefi’s deep-routed religious beliefs give him the sort of confidence that has outrun ability in the past. All athletes agree — anything can happen in a final.

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