'Hell, no': Semenya says she won't take drugs

ESPN News Services3 Minute Read

Caster Semenya was defiant in every way at what could be her last 800-meter race.

With her raised fist at the start. With her unstoppable victory. With her reply Friday to the big question of whether she will submit to new testosterone regulations in track and field and take hormone-reducing medication.

"Hell, no," the Olympic champion from South Africa said.

Semenya responded to her defeat in a landmark court case against track and field's governing body two days earlier with a resounding win in a place where she has done nothing but win the past four years -- over two laps of the track.

She won the 800 meters at the opening Diamond League meeting of the season in Doha, Qatar, with a meet record of 1 minute, 54.98 seconds. It was her fourth-fastest time ever. The only person ahead of her at any time during the race was the pacemaker.

Semenya's nearest challenger, Olympic silver medalist Francine Niyonsaba, was nearly three seconds and about 20 meters behind her -- barely in the picture. Ajee Wilson of the United States was third.

It was Semenya's first 800-meter race this year and first since she lost her case against the IAAF this week.

"Actions speak louder than words," Semenya told the BBC. "When you are a great champion, you always deliver."

Friday's win was her 30th straight in the 800, continuing a run that started in late 2015. But Semenya's four-year dominance over two laps might be at an end.

It would be an end brought not by another competitor but by new regulations set to come into effect Wednesday. They require the South African star and other female athletes with high levels of natural testosterone to medically lower them to be eligible to compete in events ranging from the 400 meters to the mile.

Semenya failed to overturn those rules in her appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Now her career appears to be at a crossroad: Does she take medication to lower her testosterone? The medication probably would inhibit her athletic performance and could blunt her dominance. Or does she switch events and run in long-distance races not affected by the regulations?

She was emphatic when she told reporters after Friday's race that she wouldn't take the medication.

"That's an illegal method," she said.

Semenya didn't give a clear idea of what she would do next. She said she wouldn't move up to the 5,000 meters, and she wouldn't retire.

"God has decided my career. God will end my career," she said in the BBC interview. "No man, or any other human, can stop me from running. How am I going to retire when I'm 28? I still feel young, energetic. I still have 10 years or more in athletics.

"It doesn't matter how I'm going to do it. What matters is I'll still be here. I am never going anywhere."

At the Australian Olympic Committee annual general meeting on Saturday, IOC president Thomas Bach said at a media conference, "First of all, I must say I have a lot of sympathy for Caster Semenya over this decision.

"Having said this, the issue as such is extremely complex. It has scientific impact, it has ethical impact, it impacts on fair play in competition, so it's extremely delicate, and it's extremely difficult to do justice to all these.

"The IOC respects CAS decisions, as we always do, but from a human point of view, yes, I have sympathy for her.''

Bach said an IOC committee would go over the full CAS ruling once it was available, including recommendations on how the rules should be implemented.

Semenya's comments might foreshadow an appeal against the CAS ruling, aimed first at allowing Semenya to defend her 800 title at the world championships, also in Doha, in September and October, without taking the hormone-suppressing drugs.

But if she keeps her promise to not lower her testosterone, there is a chance that Friday marked the last time Semenya will run in the 800, in which she is a double Olympic and a three-time world champion and arguably the best female athlete to run the distance in 40 years.

Her career, however, seems destined to be overshadowed by the testosterone debate, which has the potential for implications far beyond her own results.

Semenya gave away little on the track to indicate that it might be her last race at the distance. She raised her right fist when announcers introduced her before the race.

She was presented with flowers and tossed them to the crowd at the end. She then gave a thumbs-up to fans, flashed a brief smile and walked off the track.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Take ESPN Everywhere

Download the #1 sports app