Caster Semenya Delivers Gold As Women’s 800 Favorite, Francine Niyonsaba and Margaret Wambui Go 2-3 as Melissa Bishop Sets Canadian Record in 4th

August 20, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO – Caster Semenya of South Africa delivered as the heavy favorite to win her first Olympic 800 title tonight in a new personal best and South African record of 1:55.28 as the women’s 800 went very much according to form. Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba (1:56.49), who joined the Oregon Track Club this year, earned a much-deserved silver after challenging Semenya for 700 meters. Kenya’s Margaret Wambui was able to overcome having to run a whole lot of extra ground and get past Canada’s Melissa Bishop to snag the bronze in a new pb of 1:56.89 as Bishop was 4th. Bishop would have to settle for the consolation prize of a new Canadian national record of 1:57.02.

1 Caster SEMENYA RSA 1:55.28 NR
2 Francine NIYONSABA BDI 1:56.49
3 Margaret Nyairera WAMBUI KEN 1:56.89 PB
4 Melissa BISHOP CAN 1:57.02 NR
5 Joanna JÓZWIK POL 1:57.37 PB
6 Lynsey SHARP GBR 1:57.69 PB
7 Marina ARZAMASOVA BLR 1:59.10
8 Kate GRACE USA 1:59.57

The Race (video here for US visitors)

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Semenya and Niyonsaba, the two fastest women in the world this year coming into the final, ran the first 500 side by side with Semenya on the inside and Niyonsaba on the outside. As they rounded the third turn, Niyonsaba made her bid for glory. Heading into the final turn, she had a couple of meters on Semenya, but coming off the turn, Semenya led by a few meters and she’d power home for a convincing near-10-meter victory after a 14.0 final 100 (28.3 final 200).

The only drama over the final 100 was who would get silver and bronze as the top 4 were well clear of the rest of the field with 150 meters remaining. In the final 100, Niyonsaba would gradually pull away for silver. Bishop was in third for most of the homestretch but Wambui slowly crept up and finally got by Bishop 25 meters from the line.

Wambui’s bronze came despite the fact she ran the entire race from 250 to the finish in either in lane 2 or outside of lane 1.

Kate Grace‘s fairytale 2016 season could not continue in the final as she finished last, but with a respectable 1:59.57 clocking.

Quick Thought #1: This one went almost totally according to form – in two different ways.

The four fastest women in the world this year (if you count Margaret Wambui’s time for Monaco where she was DQ’d) went 1-2-3-4 tonight and they finished in the order of their seasonal best times coming into the race.

The race also went very much according to what we predicted over one year ago when the Court of Arbitration for Sport lifted the requirements that women with hyperandrogenism take testosterone-lowering medication. At the time, on July 29, 2015, we asked if Semenya, the one woman whom everyone believes to have the condition (she has never officially confirmed this), was now the 2016 Olympic favorite even though she only had a seasonal best time of 2:04.19 when we wrote it.

Semenya did end up being the Olympic favorite and now the Olympic champion and the silver and bronze went to two women whom many also believe to be hyperandrogenous. Assuming that is the case, today’s results prove that intersex women (scientific term: 5-ARD) are very hard to beat if they aren’t on testosterone-reducing medication.

Quick Thought #2: Semenya is having a spectacular 2016 campaign

Semenya, who won World Championship gold in 2009, was certainly a worthy champion tonight as she had to overcome a spirited challenge from Niyonsaba. It was a much-deserved result for her as she’s been spectacular all year long. Semenya has raced individually this year 28 times and won 27 times (she lost one 400), producing PRs at 200 (24.35), 400 (50.74), 800 (1:55.28) and 1500 (4:01.99) in the process. She sits at #11 all-time in the women’s 800 and it wouldn’t shock us if it was revealed that all of the women ahead of her were either dopers or intersex.

QT #3: Semenya and Wambui Answer Intersex Question With Class and Grace

The post-race press conference with the three medallists started off with silence. The moderator opened it up to questions and the journalists chickened out for a second, with no one asking a question, likely wondering who was going to ask a question about the CAS ruling and the intersex controversy or how to bring it up in a respectful manner. After a few race questions were asked, a journalist asked all three medallists if they had been forced to take medications and what it did to them, and whether they thought it was unfair. He tried to couch his question as one of concern, that some people had concerns what the IAAF was doing to female athletes.

Semenya and Wambui looked at each other and said a word or two amongst themselves and then Wambui, who is only 20 years old, and doesn’t speak English as a first language, handled the question with total class.  She said, “Thank you for your question.  Let us first of all focus about the performance of today. Let us first of all not focus about the medication.”

Then Semenya took over, “Excuse me, my friend, tonight is all about performance. We’re not here to talk about the IAAF. We’re not here to talk about speculations. Tonight is all about performance. This press conference is is all about the 800 m that we ran today. Thank you.”

Make no doubt about it, tonight was about performance, and the three women 800m medallists tonight, will always be the 2016 Olympic medallists (barring a doping positive), even if the CAS ruling is overturned in the future. They represented Africa proud tonight and were full of joy on the victory stand as evidenced by the photo above.

QT #4: Semenya Talks About Sport Uniting People, and How It’s Not About How We Look But Competition

A journalist asked Semenya what she meant when said sports can unite the world. Everyone can appreciate her answer. Semenya answered, “It’s all about loving one another, it’ s not all about not about discriminated people, it’s not all about looking how people look, how they speak, how they run, it’s not about being muscular, it’s all about sports. When you walk out of your apartment, you think about performing. You don’t think about how our opponents  looks like. You just want to do better. The advice to everybody is to just go out there and have fun.”

QT #5: The Other Athletes Did Not Address Intersex Issue

The other athletes in the field that we spoke to did not want to talk about the intersex issue. Tonight was about the 800m final at the Olympics, and even if the hyperandrogenism rules are changed, the results of tonight’s Olympic final will not change. Melissa Bishop, who finished fourth, initially came through the mixed zone full of emotion, with some tears,  and did not stop to answer questions. We were told she would come back. We heard from others that when she came back she only talked about her race.

Kate Grace said tonight is not the time to talk about the rules, but spoke how she was excited that athletes were competing clean.

QT #6: Kate Grace’s “Dream, Dream” Race Ends in 8th Place

Grace said her “dream, dream” goal for the season was to make the Olympic final. Once she did that, her dream was to medal and/or pr in the final. Neither of those happened today, but that didn’t diminish her fairy tale run to the Olympic final.

“My last three races have been four of my five fastest 800s ever. I’m running well, I thought that a PR was possible today. It didn’t come through. I still think I could run a PR, but it wasn’t there today,” she said noting she went out in 58. She was in 6th with 200m to go but faded the final 200m to finish last.

There was some debate as to whether Kate would run the 800 or 1500 at the Olympic Trials and the 800 proved to be the right choice, but she’s looking forward to the 1500 in the future and ending her season with the 5th Avenue Mile in New York. She’ll likely go to Europe before then. “I’m looking forward to the 1500m in the coming years,” she said.

QT #7: Caster Semenya is a Happy Olympic Champion

Semenya got the elusive gold medal after winning the silver in London four years ago. She was also very upbeat and happy when addressing the media. A journalist asked her if personally she was happier than four years ago in London and Semenya laughed, “of course that’s what happens when you get married.”

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