Semenya does 400-800 double at nationals

Caster Semenya (Gallo Images)
Caster Semenya (Gallo Images)

Stellenbosch - Stealing the show from a reigning world champion, Caster Semenya won national titles in the 400 and 800 metres and ran Olympic qualifying times in both events at the South African championships on Saturday.

Looking sharper than she has in years, Semenya, the former 800 world champion, ran world-leading times in both.

Even though it's early in the Olympic year, Semenya's performances, which came within an hour of each other on a hot day, suggested that she may again put a list of struggles behind her to challenge in Rio de Janeiro in August.

In between Semenya's victories, world champion Wayde van Niekerk retained his 400 metre title in 44.98 seconds, also going under the South African qualifying mark for the Rio Games.

Van Niekerk cruised through the first 200 to win easily on the final day of the two-day meet in Stellenbosch, near Cape To

"I'm just really pleased that I can leave the track feeling healthy and feeling confident again," Van Niekerk said. "I had quite a few challenges this weekend."

Van Niekerk, whose victory was one of the big surprises of last year's world championships in Beijing, said he'd stay at home and train for the next six weeks before heading to Europe to race in June.

"Obviously the main goal is the Olympics and obviously I'll try and pick up the momentum," he said.

Shrugging off concerns over the short gap between the 400 and 800 finals, Semenya finished in 50.74 seconds over one lap after speeding past her rivals on the last corner. About 50 minutes later, she clocked 1:58.45 to win the 800 final by more than seven seconds.

Semenya's career has been tumultuous since she won the world 800 title as an 18-year-old in 2009 in a stunning 1:55.45. She was then suspended for nearly a year by the IAAF following gender tests. She returned to near her best to win silver medals at the 2011 worlds and 2012 London Olympics, but missed the 2013 worlds with injury. She failed to make the final of the 800 at last year's world championships following knee surgery and after twice changing coaches.

At the nationals in Stellenbosch, Semenya was going for an unprecedented triple in the 1 500 metres later on Saturday.

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