Olympic Runner Disqualified from 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Caster Semenya was barred from running in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics 800-meter race due to her high testosterone levels. 

Beatrice Shen, Staff Writer

After winning her second gold medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics, Caster Semenya trained intensely for years in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, only to be disqualified.  

Semenya was born in 1991 with a rare disorder known as 46 XY Difference of Sexual Development. While Semenya is both genetically considered as and identifies as a female, the disorder causes her to have abnormally high testosterone levels for a woman.  

The Tokyo Olympics testosterone maximum for the Women’s 800-meter race is less than five nanomoles of testosterone per liter of blood. Semenya, being above this cutoff, was told she would have to take medication to lower her testosterone levels if she wanted to compete in the race. Refusing to do so, Semenya challenged the rules of the World Athletics in court but lost her case.  

Testosterone assists in strengthening muscle tone and bone mass. Thus, having significantly higher testosterone levels than the other female runners would give Semenya a great physical advantage over her competitors. If Semenya were allowed to compete against the other runners with her condition, it was likely that no other female in the 800-meter race would stand a chance against her to win the gold medal.  

“I think that it was fair that Semenya was disqualified,” PHUHS runner, Jack Penn (‘24) said, “I believe that she should have taken the medication to make the competition more fair for the rest of the girls. Just as taking extra testosterone would disqualify a female with normal testosterone levels because it would make the competition unfair for the rest of the women, it wouldn’t make sense to allow for her to compete.”

Additionally, Penn said that with his experience with the 800-meter race, “it is a fast race, where the difference between boys and girls times has a large difference.”

While Semenya’s testosterone gives her more strength, allowing her to excel in shorter races, she was not able to qualify for the 5,000-meter, as longer races require more stamina rather than strength. 

“If I look at it through her eyes, it’s completely unfair,” PHUHS runner, Swayam Patel (‘22) said, “Competition is the best part of every athlete’s life. But for Semenya, the courts dictated for her. But if we look at it from the international committee’s point of view, they also have a valid argument… It frustrates me because if I was put in her place, I would be heartbroken at the fact I can’t compete in something I’m the best at.” 

Both ends of the argument reign strong. Some believe it is unjust for Semenya to be disqualified simply due to a physical difference that she was born with.

 “ ‘Competition paves the way for growth,’ is something one of my coaches told me. To see Semenya being segregated from that is very unfortunate” Patel said. 

If she continues to run 800-meter races without reducing her testosterone levels, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will only be a first of many missed international competitions for Semenya.