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Monday, August 23, 2010

David Rudisha 800m WR and Semenya returns

Video of Rudisha's 800m World Record

As mentioned in yesterday's post, David Rudisha of Kenya has broken the 800m World Record.  And as promised, here is a video for those who might have missed it!

So yesterday I wrote about the importance of that first lap being around 49 seconds, based on the pacing of the event.  I'll look at that in more detail as soon as I can - right now, I'm heading back from Poznan to Munich and then spending a week in the Alps, so bear with me but we'll look at pacing in the 800m in due course!

Caster Semenya returns to Berlin

In other 800m news, Caster Semenya returned to the blue track of Berlin where she first came to prominence last year by winning the world title.  As everyone is by now aware, that win catalysed an inquest into her sex with the IAAF performing sex verification testing on her.  It later transpired that Athletics South Africa had in fact done similar tests before the World Champs, but decided that she should run anyway.

Then, 11 months later, and for any number of reasons, the IAAF eventually reached a decision that she was cleared to compete as a woman.  Did this mean that they'd reviewed those tests from August 2009 and concluded that nothing was wrong?  Did it mean that her legal team and the IAAF had been locked in an arm-wrestle over human rights which ultimately saw the IAAF concede that they could not prevent her from running?  Or did it mean that medical intervention had taken place over the preceding 9 months (in 2010) to clear her to compete, potentially with a reduced advantage?

Of course, no one knows and so we're left speculating, and of course, every performance will add to this speculation.  Yesterday, she won in Berlin, against a relatively weak field, in a time of 1:59.90.

Quite what to make of this time, I'm not sure.  Given the three options above (nothing wrong, a legal battle, or medical treatment), we're none the wiser.  I will say that an elite athlete should be able to approach their best racing form within about 3 months of starting training, even after a very long layoff, as she is alleged to have taken.  On that note, it's worth pointing out that up until about May, her coach was saying that her training was going "very well", that she was close to ready for the European season.  Then in May and June, it changed, and suddenly she'd lost conditioning.

Now she's back and no one really knows whether that time, a full four seconds off her best, is reflective of a lack of training, or some kind of intervention which would, in theory slow her down.  She is getting faster, of course - three outings this year, three seasons bests and so perhaps by October and Commonwealth Games, she'll be back to mid 1:50 performances.

Competitor reactions - public vs non-public views, and human rights

The other sub-plot here is her competition, and their perception of it.  And I read an article this morning with some interesting quotes from Jemma Simpson of England.  Here are some:
Jemma Simpson of Britain, who finished fourth Sunday in 2:00.57, said that although she felt sorry for Semenya because of the scrutiny she had endured in the last year, other competitors had been slighted in the search for justice for Semenya.

“It’s obviously a human rights issue, but human rights affect everyone in the race, not just one person,” Simpson said. “And for the rest of the field, it gets ignored.”

When asked what the fair solution would be, Simpson said: “I think every competitor has got to be considered in this kind of thing, and it’s just like, maybe for the spectators it’s fair, but we spend our whole lives trying to do this. We train hard, and it can just be taken away from you.”

Simpson conceded that the issue was “really tough” and that Semenya had a right to privacy, but she said it would be easier to accept the I.A.A.F.’s decision to allow Semenya to compete if there had been some public explanation for the ruling’s rationale. When the I.A.A.F. cleared Semenya to compete as a woman in July, it did not release test results or provide details of its methodology.
And that last paragraph is the whole point - some transparency, not a violation of medical confidentiality, but just some brief explanation, would have managed much of the speculation and once that first leak occurred, it was always going to come down to this kind of perception.  There are more interesting quotes in this article, expressing much the same view, including some very pointed statements by Diane Cummins.  Where I disagree is Cummins' final contention that Semenya is guaranteed to be dominant - she may well be, but I'll wait a little while longer before confirming that, given the doubt over training versus some kind of medical treatment.  She may find a ceiling at 1:57 this year, 1:58 next and so forth.  Only time will reveal that.

Simpson also says the following: "Publicly, everyone's happy. Non-publicly, people have their own personal issues with it. You're not going to say in the media what you feel deep down."

And therein lies the illusion.  And frankly, I have to agree with the guys at Letsrun.com, who today said "We must say that while we feel bad for Semenya, we feel worse for her competitors."  The debate will rage on, and time will tell, in more ways than one!