World 800m champion Caster Semenya comfortably won her first race in 11 months in a time of 2:04.22 at the Lappeenranta Games in Finland on Thursday night.
The 19-year-old South African let the pacemaker go on the first lap, taking over at the bell in 1:02.05, and pulled away down the finishing straight to hold off a challenge from Finland’s Mari Jarvenpaa who finished second in 2:04.71.
Semenya and her coach, Michael Seme, admitted before the race that she had done little speed work and was not entirely fit. Her time fell almost 10 seconds short of the national record she set when she won the global title in 1:55.45 in Berlin last August.
Semenya was cleared to run last week by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) after a gender controversy had kept her off the track for nearly a year.
South African 400m hurdles champion Cornel Fredericks was also victorious in his event, setting a career best of 48.99 seconds.
Kazuaki Yashida of Japan was second in 50.45, with nobody else in the field breaking 52 seconds.
Teenage long jump sensation Luvo Manyonga was fourth in his event, leaping 8.04m with his first attempt of the evening. The distance fell 15cm short of the 8.19m African junior record he set in Bottrop, Germany, last week.
Semenya, who has set her sights on winning the Commonwealth Games title in New Delhi, India, in October, will compete again at the Lapinlahti Games in Finland on Sunday. — Sapa