Ciara Mageean to face Caster Semenya in 1,500m heats
South African has opted to attempt an 800m/1,500m double at World Championships
Ciara Mageean will face Caster Semenya in her 1,500m heats at the World Championships in London. Photo: Inpho
No one said it would be easy, and Ciara Mageean’s task of qualifying from Friday’s opening heat of the World Championships 1,500m has unquestionably been made more difficult by the inclusion of a certain Caster Semenya.
The South African woman had declared her intention to attempt an 800m/1,500m double in London over the coming 10 days, although only now has that been confirmed with her inclusion in the official start lists for Friday’s opening evening session.
Mageean will also have to contend with reigning World champion and world record holder Genzebe Dibaba from Ethiopia, reigning European champion Angelika Cichocka from Poland, the Kenyan Winny Chebet, and the Ethiopian Fantu Worku in the 14-woman field.
For Mageean, running in first senior World Championships, that is certainly a daunting prospect: only the top six, plus the six fastest losers across the three heats, progress to Saturday’s semi-final.
Semenya may still be focusing on the 800m, but her superior finishing speed will also be highly suited to championship 1,500m running. She has only run the distance once this year, at the South African University Championships, running 4:16.87, but has a best of 4:01.99 from last year. Mageean’s best this season is 4:03.57.
Semenya, the reigning double Olympic champion over 800m, is also now on an unbeaten 22-month run in the 800m, including 26 consecutive wins, and hasn’t lost a race in the event since the IAAF was forced to suspend its ruling on intersex athletes and hyperandrogenism, in 2015.
In Oslo in June, for example, Semenya again toyed with the field of women around her, waiting until the final 60 metres before making any sort of effort, then crossing the line in 1:57.59, her third Diamond League victory of the season.
That rule is due to go back before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) later this month, although for now Semenya is free to compete without being subjected to any testosterone limits.
Last month, the IAAF also produced results of a study which suggested there are clear advantages to having increased levels of testosterone in female athletes.
In tests carried out on male and female athletes at the 2011 and 2013 World Championships, they found that some women can have naturally elevated testosterone levels which can provide up to 4.5 per cent advantage over other women.
And that was without taking into consideration women with hyperandrogenism, or testosterone levels well above the normal female range and inside the male testosterone levels.
Writing on the issue in the Irish Times last month, Sonia O’Sullivan said: “But I just hope that the evidence is conclusive enough and a definitive line can be drawn to level this particular playing field, because currently the women’s 800m event is not a fair race.”
Come the weekend such opinion may also find itself being applied to the women’s 1,500m.