Friday, 07 July 2017 15:11

Caster Semenya on new testosterone study: ‘I don’t have time for idiots’

Caster Semenya is focused on upcoming university exams, not on racing at the moment. What about the IAAF- and WADA-funded study that could sideline the Olympic 800m champion from competition?

“I don’t have time for idiots” when asked for her views on the study, according to Sowetan in South Africa. “I don’t have time for people who don’t care about me.”

The study found that women who produce higher-than-normal amounts of testosterone have up to a 4.5 percent advantage over their competition on the track.

The IAAF will use the new study in its appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which in 2015 suspended an IAAF rule that enforced a limit on female athletes’ naturally occurring testosterone levels. The appeal will not affect August’s world championships, where Semenya is expected to go for her third 800m title.

Semenya has been under unwanted scrutiny ever since word leaked in 2009, just before she won the 800m world title as a 19-year-old, that track officials mandated that she undergo sex testing.

The IAAF rules were introduced in 2011. She was suspended for 11 months and came back to win silver at the 2012 London Games behind Russian Maria Savinova, who has since been stripped of her gold for doping.

Semenya then had a lull in performance before peaking in 2016, going undefeated in 800m races, twice breaking the national record and comfortably winning Olympic gold.

Semenya has never spoken publicly in detail about her condition. It has never been publicly verified that Semenya’s body naturally produces abnormally high levels of testosterone or that she ever took hormone suppressants.

Her default position is generally to talk only about her running, but she spoke out against her critics in a speech after accepting South Africa’s Sportswoman of the Year in November.

“They say she talks like a man, she walks like a man, she runs like a man,” Semenya said, before finishing off the series with an Afrikaans word that loosely translates to “Get lost.”


New study could affect Semenya's eligibility

A scientific paper published Monday found that women who produce higher-than-normal amounts of testosterone have up to a 4.5 percent advantage over their competition on the track, evidence the sport's governing body will use to potentially sideline Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya and others with so-called intersex conditions.

The International Association of Athletics Federations will use the new study in its appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which suspended an IAAF rule that enforced a limit on female athletes' naturally occurring testosterone levels. The appeal will not affect this year's world championships, where Semenya is expected to go for her third title at 800 meters.

The study, funded by IAAF and the World Anti-Doping Agency, and published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, analyzed more than 2,100 androgen samples from athletes participating in the 2011 and 2013 world championships.

It found females with higher testosterone levels received a competitive advantage of 1.8 percent to 4.5 percent over female athletes with lower testosterone levels in 400- and 800-meter races, hammer throw and pole vault.

"If, as the study shows, in certain events female athletes with higher testosterone levels can have a competitive advantage of between 1.8 to 4.5 percent over female athletes with lower testosterone levels, imagine the magnitude of the advantage for female athletes with testosterone levels in the normal male range," said one of the study's authors, Stephane Bermon.

In 2011, the IAAF enacted a rule to force athletes with hyperandrogenism to artificially lower their testosterone levels to be eligible to compete.

Dutee Chand of India contested the rule and CAS overturned it in time for last year's Olympics. CAS gave the IAAF two years to produce evidence that hyperandrogenism led to an unfair advantage. IAAF will submit the paper, but said it would have no further comment until the case is concluded.


Testosterone a 'significant' boost for women athletes

Paris (AFP) - Women runners born with high testosterone levels enjoy a "significant competitive advantage", said a study Tuesday that could reignite debate on the future participation of athletes whose gender was questioned.

The study, jointly sponsored by the sporting agency seeking to ban athletes with hyperandrogenism, comes three weeks before the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) must present expert evidence on "the actual degree" of advantage women could gain.

Hyperandrogenism is a condition that causes high natural levels of the male hormone, testosterone, in women.

Without proof, IAAF regulations excluding women with hyperandrogenism from competition are set to lapse. Track stars such as South Africa's Caster Semenya and India's Dutee Chand both endured banishment for failing so-called "gender tests".

The new study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, was funded by the IAAF and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

One of the authors, Stephane Bermon, is an IAAF consultant and a member of its working group on hyperandrogenic athletes.

The other, Pierre-Yves Garnier, is director of the IAAF's health and science department. He returned to work in January after a three-month suspension in a probe linked to Russian athletics doping.

Their research relied on blood data from male and female athletes who competed in the World Championships in 2011 and 2013 -- more than 2,100 samples in all.

It found that women with high natural testosterone levels performed better in the 400-metre sprint, 400 m hurdles, and 800 m middle-distance events than women with low levels.

They also outperformed them at pole-vaulting and hammer throw.

Depending on the event, performance improved by between 1.8 and 4.5 percent, the paper said.

This link, concluded the authors, "should be taken into account when the eligibility of women with hyperandrogenism to compete in the female category of competition is discussed."

The study is an observational study that cannot determine conclusively that higher testosterone is what causes the performance boost, merely that an increase in one is associated with an increase in the other.

- Unfair or discriminatory? -

Testosterone, which can also be injected as a performance-enhancer, increases muscle mass and boosts physical strength.

The issue of hyperandrogenism is controversial because it has pitted principles of fair competition against the rights of women born with a condition they have no control over.

In 2011, the IAAF introduced so-called "hyperandrogenism regulations" after a highly-emotive and public battle with South Africa's Semenya.

The regulations allowed hyperandrogenic athletes to take medication to lower their testosterone levels to below 10 nanomoles per litre -- considered a low level in men.

The natural range for women is about 10 times lower.

Semenya won gold in the 800 m at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, but was subsequently barred from competing for nearly a year while undergoing gender tests.

Competitors say hyperandrogenic athletes enjoy an unfair physical advantage, but critics say gender testing is arbitrary, discriminatory and psychologically harmful.

In 2015, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) suspended the IAAF regulations in a challenge brought on behalf of India's Chand, a sprinter.

It said there was not sufficient scientific evidence that natural testosterone boosts performance in hyperandrogenic women, and gave the agency two years to submit expert reports to the contrary.

The deadline of July 27 is fast approaching.

"Our starting position is to defend, protect and promote fair female competition," an IAAF statement quoted Bermon as saying on Tuesday.

"This study is one part of the evidence the IAAF will be submitting to the CAS," he added.

There would be no impact on the World Championships in London in August, as the regulations remain suspended "pending the resolution of the CAS proceeding", the association said.