Semenya produced the most impressive and brave performances of her illustrious career clocking the fourth fastest 800-metre of all time
Shockwaves reverberated through the Stade Charlety as Caster Semenya produced the most impressive and brave performances of her illustrious career clocking the fourth fastest 800-metre of all time at the Paris Diamond League on Saturday night.
It was one of the best track and field meetings thanks to a host of record-breaking performances but Semenya’s brave run would dominate conversations at the breakfast tables at the athletes’ hotel the next day.
Semenya burnt up the track in the second-last track event of the night scorching home with a time of one minute, 54.25 seconds (1:54.25) chopping almost a second off her previous South African record. She stopped the clock just 0.24s short of Kenyan Pamela Jelimo’s continental record edged her ever so close to Czech athlete Jarmila Kratochvilova’s world record of 1:53.28 from 1983.
The South African was more Kenyan men’s 800m world record holder David Rudisha and less Semenya as she adopted a tactic the South African has never employed at a major international event before.
But the build-up to the race suggested Semenya and her coach Samuel Sepeng were concocting something special for the Parisian spectators. They both suggested before the race that she would be going after a sub-1:55 time which could double up as a dress rehearsal for bigger things to come.
“When I am on the 700-metre mark and I am on 1:44 I just need to keep the rhythm until the finish line then it would be a good time so it was just fantastic,” Semenya told Independent Newspapers after the race. “We didn’t request a pacemaker to see how fast we can go without one, it was a wise decision because running 1:54 is not a joke.”
Semenya led the race from start to finish going through the bell in an impressive 56.12 seconds with perennial shadow Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi hanging on her coat-tails.
Before the race, Niyonsaba jokingly asked Semenya not to take it out too fast but the South African had other plans. In the final back straight Semenya started to open some daylight on Niyonsaba and the rest of the field. Niyonsaba clocked a season’s best of 1:55.86 with American Ajee Wilson finishing third in 1:57.05.
While Semenya claims the Berlin track where she won her first world crown as a teenager as the metaphorical birthplace of her track career, Paris should hold a special place in her heart.
After the race, she went on a full victory lap saluting her ‘people’, not just the ones at the Southern tip of Africa but the entire continent.
“I am just a human and if you want to be an inspiration to the world and to the youth, you cannot focus on negative things. With the help of God, you can do big things,” Semenya said. “I know it is the fourth-best time in the world ever so I am trying to enjoy each and every race that I run and see what we can do.
Semenya’s next stop is the Lausanne Diamond League meeting on Thursday where Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba’s 1500m world record of 3:50.07 may come under threat.
Ockert de Villiers is attending the Paris Diamond League courtesy of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF)