RIO DE JANEIRO, As expected Caster Semenya led an African sweep in the women’s 800m with Burundian Francine Niyonsaba, winning her country’s second medal at the Olympics as Kenya's Margaret Nyairera fought for bronze on Saturday at the Olympic stadium.
the focus as with other events was not on how the three medallists had mastered the race, but as it had been preceding the women’s two-lap race, there was more interest on the trio’s perceived advantage against the rest of the field over hyperandrogenism -defined as the excessive production of testosterone.
“Lets focus on the performance of today and not focus on the medication,” Nyairera shot back after consultations with the other medallists, when asked whether any of them had taken any medication.
“We are not here to talk about IAAF,we are not here to talk about speculation. Tonight is about performance. It’s about the 800m we ran today,” Semenya 33, added sharply.
In 2011 the track and field governing body IAAF announced new rules relating to the participation of female athletes with hyperandrogenism in athletics, stating that they would be required to take hormones to suppress their bodies testosterone production.
It was widely claimed that Semenya and other athletes with similar conditions had been put on hormonal treatment that contributed to her difficult runs over the last two years.
But Semenya would not be drawn to fuel further the speculations, that even eclipsed the race.
“It is not about discriminating against people. It is not about looking at how people look, how they speak, how they run. It is not about being muscular,” she said.
“When you walk out of your apartment you think about performing, you don’t think about what your opponent looks like. You just want to do better. I think the advice to everyone is to go out there and have fun."
Semenya, the silver winner in London improved the South African record to 1:55.28 as Niyonsaba became the first woman to win a medal for Burundi .
Nyairera’s finishing kick was put to test and was lucky to hang on for the Bronze in 1:56.89, a personal best beating Canadian Melissa Bishop to fourth.
Niyonsaba and Semenya went all out on attack earlier in the race and guided the field through the 400m in 57.59.
Nyairera fights for bronze
Nyairera opted to stick back with the shadowing pack.
At 600m Niyonsaba still led as the South African smoothly moved forward splitting the field and leading a rushed dash for Olympic honours, the gold and silver, then clearly decided.
Nyairera had to dig deep to hold off Bishop, who set a Canadian record in 1:57.02. It is this performance that the London 2012 Silver medallist was willing to discuss.
“The field was fantastic, pacing myself well am strong in the last 200m.The coach told me go out there and have fun. Obviously in the race there will always be one winner - so it turns out good for me."
On her quick 100m she said: “I used to be a sprinter so I run a 100 metres.It's just what I'm best at."
But her strongest and most crucial part was Nyairera’s undoing.
“Race was tough, racing with Semenya. I felt I was low but I managed to pick and catch up with them. The two are strong and I lost to better people than me,” said the 20-year-old who was the youngest in the final.
Nyairera aced at the world championships in her first major event but did not go past the heats. She rebounded to win the Africa 400m silver, a race she was using to boost the speed.
“I have some work to do especially when it comes to speed-work and endurance. Up to the last minute I have struggled especially the 100m. I feel I still have more to do to be in a better position and achieve the best,” said the 2014 world junior 800m champion.
Niyonsaba missed the gold that compatriot Vénuste Niyongabo won in the 5000 at the 1996 Games, which until the weekend was Burundi’s only Olympic medal.
“My goal was gold not silver the challenge was strong. I tried to race to my best but the race was quick. But I am happy, it’s a big honour for me, honour for my country first silver medal since the 1996 gold. I think tonight all Burundians are very happy.”