As controversy follows speedy Caster Semenya, she continues to not ‘give a damn’

STANFORD — For Caster Semenya, running is the easy part.

The 28-year-old South African demonstrated that once more on Sunday, easily winning the 800 meters against a world-class field at the Prefontaine Classic, relocated from Eugene, Oregon, to the Bay Area for this year only.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist remains unbeaten in her speciality over the past four seasons.

“When I run I forget about everything,” Semenya said after winning with a mark of 1 minute, 55.70 seconds, the fastest time ever recorded on U.S. soil. “It’s just all about me. It’s all about me being free. It’s all about me doing what I love.”

Everything else about Semenya and her life as an elite athlete is complicated, including the fact that she almost wasn’t allowed to run in this Diamond League event.

South Africa’s Caster Semenya acknowledges the crowd as she is announced before running in the women’s 800 on Sunday. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

Semenya received clearance to compete in the 800 just days earlier when the Swiss supreme court ruled in her favor (a decision specific to her alone). At least for now.

Since winning the 800 at the world championships at age 18 in 2009, Semenya has faced questions about whether her naturally occurring higher levels of testosterone provide her an unfair advantage.

A Time magazine headline at the time asked, “Is a Female Track Star a Man? No Simple Answer.”

Semenya, whose condition is known as hyperandrogenism, identifies as a woman. But track and field’s world governing body, the IAAF, is arguing for “a protected category for females where eligibility is based on biology and not on gender identity.”

The IAAF in April 2018 announced new regulations requiring that women with differences of sex development (DSD) who compete in events ranging from 400 meters to the mile must take oral contraceptives to reduce their testosterone-blood concentration, and maintain appropriate levels for a period of six months.

Semenya has said she will not take the medication.

“I am a woman and I am fast,” she was quoted as saying last year.

Under the new IAAF rules, the timetable for Semenya to defend her 2015 and 2017 titles at the world championships at Doha, Qatar in September would have required her to begin taking the oral contraceptives on May 11.

Semenya smiles after her win Sunday. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

Semenya reiterated she will run her specialty or nothing at Doha.

“If I’m not running the 800 meters . . . no, not the 1,500, nothing. I’ll go take a vacation,” she said. “If I’m not allowed, I’m not allowed — I don’t give a damn.”

Patricio Manuel, the first transgender athlete to compete in a professional men’s boxing match, said Semenya’s case should have the attention of more in her sport.

“I’m heartbroken other female athletes aren’t seeing the implications of this,” Manuel said last month. “If you’re policing one of us, you’re policing all of us.”

Ajee Wilson, the top American in the event, said she hopes Semenya is allowed to compete.

“Absolutely,”  Wison said before declining to answer a subsequent question about whether DSD athletes should be required to take oral contraceptives.

But Wilson, who finished second Sunday in a time of 1:58.38, added, “I’m definitely super-empathetic. I can’t imagine having to deal with that.”

It’s business as usual for Semenya. “For me, I know how to handle situations,” she said.

Meanwhile, the legal wrangling continues. The Swiss high court set Monday as the deadline for both sides to submit legal arguments, before it makes a decision that will impact Semenya’s status for the world championships and beyond.

Semenya said she expects to compete at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but takes comfort in the belief that she may be paving the way for future athletes.

“This is a legal battle. It’s like war. You don’t give up,” she said. “I’m a world champ, I’m an Olympic champion. I’ve achieved everything that I’ve ever wanted.

“At the end of the day I’m just doing it for those that cannot fight for themselves.”

NOTES: The Pre Classic was moved to Stanford for this year while Eugene’s Hayward Field undergoes renovation for the 2021 world championships. … Christian Coleman won the men’s 100 meters in 9.81, a stadium record. .. Kenya’s Timothy Cheruyiot took the mile in a world-leading time of 3:50.49. … Mondo Duplantis, the 19-year-old pole vault sensation, cleared 19-5 1/2 to beat a field that included 20-foot vaulter Renaud Lavillenie of France. … Rai Benjamin, 21, won the 400 hurdles in a world-leading time of 47.16.