‘Hell no’: Defiant Semenya wins, says she won’t take drugs

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

Her raised fist at the start. Her unstoppable victory. And 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 Wednesday in a landmark court case against the IAAF, track and field’s governing body, with a resounding win in a place where she’s done nothing but win the last 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.

“Actions speak louder than words,” Semenya, a two-time Olympic champion in the event, told the BBC. “When you are a great champion, you always deliver.”

But Semenya’s four-year dominance in the 800 — Friday’s win was her 30th straight in the event, continuing a run that started in late 2015 — may now be at an end.

Ended not by another competitor, but by 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 400 meters to the mile.

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

The court ruling goes to the heart of a dilemma facing the sports world: How to avoid discrimination against intersex or transgender athletes while keeping competitions fair.

The challenges faced by Semenya — a South African woman who reportedly has some intersex traits — differ in key respects from those confronting transgender women. But there are parallels as well.

Comparable requirements apply to transgender women seeking to compete in the Olympics and in NCAA-governed collegiate sports in the U.S. Both organizations say male-to-female athletes should demonstrate that their testosterone level has been below a certain point for at least a year before their first competition.

In Semenya’s case, the court voted 2-1 to uphold rules issued by the IAAF, saying that they are discriminatory but that “such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means” of “preserving the integrity of female athletics.”

Powerful female stars such as Serena Williams in tennis, former Stanford swimmer Katie Ledecky and 6-foot-9 Brittney Griner in basketball also have been cited as possessing a distinctive physical edge.

World-class triathlete Chris Mosier, one of the few prominent transgender male athletes, suggested there was a racial element to Semenya’s targeting.

“We do not police white bodies in the same way,” Mosier said in an email. “When Katie Ledecky beat women in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games by an entire pool length, no one questioned her gender or her testosterone levels.”

Overall, supporters of increased trans inclusion in sports are heartened by the pace of progress. In the U.S., a growing number of state high school athletic associations enable them to play on teams based on their gender identity, and the NCAA has trans-inclusive guidelines for all member schools.

But there have been numerous bitter controversies.

Earlier this year, tennis great Martina Navratilova, a lesbian and longtime gay-rights activist, was accused of being “transphobic” after asserting that many transgender women — even if they have undergone hormone treatment — have an unfair advantage over other female competitors.

Joanna Harper, a medical physicist and transgender runner from Portland, Ore., said the controversies raise complex questions, and she believes there needs to be a standard based on hormone levels.

“The gender identity doesn’t matter; it’s the testosterone levels,” Harper said. “Trans girls should have the right to compete in sports. But cisgender girls should have the right to compete and succeed, too. How do you balance that? That’s the question.”

Gerald Imray is an Associated Press writer.

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Hell-no-Defiant-Semenya-wins-says-she-13818220.php.

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