Semenya gives SA gold in 800m

2009-08-20 00:00

SOUTH Africa celebrated their first World Championship medal in six years when 18-year-old Caster Semenya tore away from a quality 800m field to post a time of one minute 55,45 seconds at the World Athletics Championships in Berlin.

Following the same tactics that had brought success in the previous two rounds, the Polokwane-based youngster tucked in behind defending world champion Janeth Jepkosgei as they covered the first 200m in 26,81 seconds.

In anticipation of the bell, Semenya moved to the Kenyan’s shoulder and took the lead.

By the back straight there seemed little doubt, with only Jepkosgei and the Ukraine’s Yuliya Krevsun in close contact as the South African wound up the pace to open a 10-metre gap with 80 metres to go.

In a typical late charge, Britain’s Jennifer Meadows outran the tiring Krevsun to take the bronze and just failed to catch the Kenyan.

Semenya said after leaving the stadium: “That was the way coach [Michael Seme] and I planned it. Everything was as he told me.

“ I didn’t open my mind to negative things. These things just made me stronger for the race.”

The race may have been decisive, but the aftermath was filled with controversy.

After Semenya’s on-track celebrations, where there were reports of booing from some of the German crowd, the South African was whisked away from any media contact and into doping control.

Semenya did not appear for the post-race conference, but the International Athletics Federation (IAAF) secretary-general did confirm that investigations will be made into allegations that questioned her gender.

“The IAAF have a 12-man medical commission that by coincidence includes a South African doctor, and they are in contact with doctors in South Africa.

“They will be investigating the situation and will have results in two to four weeks. There will be a medal ceremony tomorrow.”

Semenya’s result is even the more remarkable given the gender controversy the teenager has been subjected to in recent days. The complex questioning and testing must surely impact more than any other question put to a woman.

The fact that it has been necessary to undertake this so close to a major championship begs the question as to why this was not investigated by officialdom after the 1:56,72 world leading time in the African Junior Championships. This event, and the 2008 World Junior Championships and Commonwealth Youth Games, are all held under the same set of IAAF rules.

Pre-race suggestions that she should be prevented from competing was determined as unreasonable as no judgment or outcome had been received.

Ironically, this is the same stadium where similar questions were raised about Polish sprinter Stella Walsh, who won silver at the 1936 Olympics. Walsh also won gold in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics and was found after her death in 1988 to have “ambiguous genitalia” and to be more male than female.

South Africa’s 200 m interest was with the women’s first-round heats where Isabel le Roux finished a disappointing fifth in 23,61 behind three- time world and Olympic finalist Cydonie Mothersille from the Cayman Islands. Mothersille broke the beam in 22,69 seconds, which coincidently is Le Roux’s lifetime best.

“My start was terrible so I lost it there. I tried with 80 to go, but there was nothing there” said the 22-year-old who won silver in the World Student Games in July.

Sprint hurdler Lehann Fourie finished fourth behind China’s Dongpeng Shi in 13,56 in the opening heat of the 110m hurdles, missing the automatic top three qualification to Spain’s Jackson Quinonez by 0,4 seconds.

With the fallback of being among the six fastest losers, Fourie was still alive in the competition until the fourth of six heats when Ryan Braithwaite of Barbados pulled the heat to a fast 13,35, giving sixth-placed Russian Evgenivy Borisov the closing 13,63 qualification mark. Ironically, Fourie’s time of 13,67 was exactly that of World record holder and Olympic champion Dayron Robles. The Cuban’s third in the second heat takes him through to the semis and probably the podium come tonight.

South Africa’s throwers continued to struggle with form. Although discus thrower Elizna Naude improved her season’s best of 59,09 to 59,67, it was well short of the 61,50 automatic qualification mark.

The 31-year-old teacher ended her round in seventh with an anxious and eventually fruitless wait as an additional six qualifiers in group B took the 12th qualification to 61,08 metres, ejecting Naude from the final.

South Africa’s Willem Coertzen got off to a good start on day one of the decathlon, shaving 0,18 seconds from his 100m personal best.

The 27-year-old recorded 10,9 seconds to give him an initial place behind American Trey Hardee. As Hardee leapt to another best in the long jump, Coertzen opened with a no jump, but regained composure to earn another 891 for his second trial 7,32 metre leap.

A first trial best of 13,16 metres in shot put, one of his weakest events, saw him drop back to 21st position at the break, while the American had opened his lead to 3 014 points with Ukraine’s Oleksly Kasyanov moving into second with a season’s best of 15,72 metres.

In the high jump, Coertzen had first-time clearances until 2,02 metres, which required a second attempt, and then failed at his personal best height of 2,05 metres.

His performance promoted him to 13th overall at this point.

Then to round the night off he added a second personal best in the 400m, recording 48,63 seconds, which left him with 4 154 points in 17th place and still on target to set a new SA record.

Frantz Kruger, the former South African now competing for Finland, spun the discus out to 59,77 metres, well below hiss 70,32 record distance, to finish 12th in the final.

Today sees South Africa’s next medal hope, Khotso Mokoena, in action in the long jump, while Samson Ngoepe and Athens silver medallist Mbulaeni Mulaudzi commence their attack on the 800m podium.

The South African marathon athletes — Norman Dlomo, Johannes Kekana, Coolboy Ngamole and Tanith Maxwell — arrived in Berlin yesterday to compete at the weekend in the World Championships marathon.

The group have been in a training camp for 10 weeks in Potchefstroom under the watchful eye of Kenyan coach Danson Muchoki in preparation for the World Championships.

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