Farah, Semenya and Centrowitz let feet do talking as questions swirl
Trio’s gold medals at Olympic Games will always come with an asterisk
South Africa’s Caster Semenya celebrates winning the women’s 800m final in Rio. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images
Rarely in Olympic history have three gold medal winners talked so loudly on the track, only to sound a little more muted afterwards.
Mo Farah – winning his fourth Olympic gold, only the second ever 5,000m-10,000m double-double after Lasse Viren, in another unbreakable display of dominance; Matthew Centrowitz – America’s first gold medallist in the 1,500m in 108 years, winning from the front, his searing last lap burning off all the opposition; and Caster Semenya – leading a trio of African women home in the 800m in 1:55.28, the fastest in eight years, run entirely without strain and with plenty more in reserve.
What else was left to say?
Quite a bit, actually – starting with Semenya, given the South African’s return to form this season is being partly contributed to the suspension of the IAAF ruling on hyperandrogenism, or high levels of testosterone deemed to give her an advantage over the majority of her opponents.
Just hours before her race on Saturday night, IAAF president Seb Coe confirmed their intention of readdressing the issue early next year, with every chance Semenya may not be the same athlete next season.
If that sounds complicated, it’s because it is. However, Semenya, and justifiably so, wasn’t about to let it get in the way of her moment of victory, nor indeed the other medallists – Francine Niyonsaba grabbing silver, becoming Burundi’s first ever female Olympic athletics medallist, while the bronze went to the 20-year-old Kenyan Margaret Wambui, who out-fought Melissa Bishop of Canada in a tight homestretch battle.
Indeed the issue was put before all three women, whether they have been subjected to any testing of testosterone levels, or enforced to take medication to reduce it in the past, and if so how they felt about it?
“I think that tonight is all about performance, about the 800m that we ran today,” said Semenya, in no way thrown by the question. “We are not here to talk about IAAF, not here to talk about some speculations.”
Wambui’s response was similar: “Thank you for the question,” said the Kenyan woman, “but let us focus on the performance of today, let’s not focus on the medication.”
Unite the world
Earlier, when coming through the mixed zone, Semenya said that “sport can unite the world”. She was asked to expand on that.
“I think it’s all about loving one another, you know. It’s not about discriminating people. It’s not about looking at people, you know, how they look, how they speak, how they run. It’s not about being more muscular.
“It’s all about sports. When you walk out of your apartment, you think about performing. You do not think about how your opponents looks. You just want to do better. So I think the advice is to be for everybody just to go out there and have fun. As much as you have fun in training. As much as you want to achieve.”
There no was denying the ease of her victory, improving on the silver medal won in 2012: yet she was well short of the world record of 1:53.28, which has stood since 1983.
“To be honest, we did not focus on breaking the world record. We focused more on being the best that we can be, producing a good performance. Fortunately, my last 200m was stronger, but the ladies are strong, did a fantastic job, so well done to them.”
She also took time to “encourage other nations, Asia, America to do better” to “pull up your socks, and go out there with heart” – and when ultimately asked if she was happier now than ever before she replied: “Of course, that’s what happens when you get married.” (Last December she married long-term partner Violet Raseboya. )
So to Farah and Centrowitz, who are both coached by the American Alberto Salazar, who has in the past faced various doping allegations, never quite escaping the trail of suspicion.
Although for Farah, it seems, Salazar isn’t quite as close as he once was – and instead the main talking point after his 5,000m win on Saturday night was his relationship with Jama Aden, the Somalian-born, Ethiopian-based coach who was arrested by Spanish police in June for possessing an array of performance enhancing drugs.
“It’s no secret what I do”, started Farah, his fourth gold medal edging him past the likes of Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele from Ethiopia.
“I spend six months away from home, training abroad, so it depends on what time of the year. So yeah, I’m still in touch with Alberto, he sends the sessions and stuff, so it’s normal.”
Following that arrest, British Athletics claimed that Aden had worked as an “unofficial facilitator” for Farah in 2015, and nothing more: the problem is Farah seems somewhat reluctant – or indeed conflicted – about what exactly is that relationship with Aden (given pictures emerged of the two together training in Ethiopia earlier this year),
“He’s not a friend of mine. I’ve been competing since I was 12 years old, and you can’t lie about it. You see people on the circuit, you see coaches, and that’s all it is.
“I don’t know why you’re making a big deal out of it.
“I’d totally understand if he was my coach, or someone I was so close with, fair enough, but I’m not close with him. I see him on the circuit, take pictures with him, does that make me a bad guy? I never want to see anything bad in my sport, but we just have to continue winning, and having faith.”
As for the race, it once again played into his hands. The Ethiopian pair of Dejen Gebremeskel and Hagos Gebrhiwet tried to run the legs off Farah. It didn’t work. Farah moved to the front with five laps to go, and simply held everyone off, winning in 13:03.30, with the American Paul Chelimo picking off Gebrhiwet for silver.
As for Centrowitz, America’s first 1,500m gold medallist since Mel Sheppard in London 1908, there was nothing unreal about his performance, his winning time of 3:50.00 actually the slowest time since 1932.
Centrowitz did come with some credentials, a two-time World championships medallist, yet still seemed well surprised himself at the manner of his win, his 50.62 last lap enough to hold off defending champion Algeria’s Taoufik Makhloufi, with Nick Willis from New Zealand running a brilliant race to snatch third.
“There’s nothing like it,” said Centrowitz. “Doing my victory lap, I literally kept screaming to everyone I know ‘are you kidding me?’ It doesn’t compare to anything else I’ve won in my life.”
Centrowitz also trains under Salazar, at the Nike Oregon Project (which means he’s now responsible for the winners of the men’s 1,500m, 5,000m, and 10,000m), which really is doing some very loud talking on the track.