Caster Semenya’s low-key return to competition continued with a win in the 800m at the Savo Games in Finland on Sunday.
The South African cruised to victory in her second race since being cleared to carry on competing as a woman, finishing in a time of two minutes 2,41 seconds — almost two seconds faster than at Thursday’s comeback race at the Lappeenranta Games.
Semenya always looked in control against a weak field. Britain’s Marilyn Okoro might have offered Semenya some competition but pulled out before the event.
Semenya appeared to be relaxed before the race on a blustery day in the small town of Lapinlahti, which has a population of 8 000 and is situated 450km to the north of the capital, Helsinki.
In the absence of any real rivalry, Semenya said she found it tough to stay with the two pacemakers.
“The race was pretty hard, the pace was fast for me,” Semenya said. “It helped me to run a faster time, so I’m quite happy with the performance.”
Sofia Oberg of Sweden came a distant second in 2:04,27 and Russia’s Anna Verhovskaya was third in 2.04,41.
Despite the improvement in her time, Semenya was still seven seconds slower than the national record she set when winning gold at the world championships in Berlin last August in 1:55,45.
She said she felt that she was lacking power — and her coach Michael Seme agreed.
“The speed is not there. It’s still a long way,” Seme said. “But it’s going according to my plan.”
Semenya will now go back to South Africa to continue training.
‘I’m pretty happy’
Her manager, Jukka Harkonen, confirmed Semenya will return to Europe in August to run in some more meets, although he wouldn’t offer any details.
Semenya said Seme expects her to be running times of 1:56 or 1:57 when she returns to competition.
During her 11-month lay-off while Semenya underwent gender testing, Seme and Harkonen tried to shield the 19-year-old runner from the limelight. The meets in Finland have helped to reintroduce her gently into the spotlight, as well as into competition.
“I’m pretty happy with the performance,” Semenya said. “Starting with 2:04 and 2:02 is good.”
Harkonen said he thought the trip to Finland had worked “100%” as he had hoped, although he believed the wind made Semenya’s run difficult on Sunday.
Semenya’s muscular appearance and dramatic improvement in times when she won world championship gold in Berlin led international athletics body the IAAF to order gender tests. After months of negotiations between her lawyers and the world governing body, she was cleared to continue to compete as a woman.
She is aiming to be in contention for an 800m gold at the Commonwealth Games, which start on October 3 in Delhi, India. — Sapa-AP