Athletics: Semenya back on track as Gay chases glory in 100m

BRUSSELS - South African Caster Semenya will make her debut on the Diamond League athletics stage at the series-ending meet in Brussels tonight (NZ time) which will see American sprinter Tyson Gay going for glory in the 100m.

The 19-year-old Semenya has run and won three races since being cleared to compete last month by the IAAF, the sport's governing body, after a controversial investigation into her gender that saw her sidelined for 11 months.

The world 800m champion easily won two minor races in Finland and also claimed first place at last weekend's World Challenge meet in Berlin, clocking a time of 1min 59.90sec.

It was her first sub-2min time since returning to the track. She has yet to match the 1min 55.45sec time that won her the world title last year.

"I've really missed the competition. I kept on training but it was annoying to stay at home, and not run any races. To return after a long break is not easy," admitted Semenya, who was this week named in South Africa's Commonwealth Games squad.

"There are not many races left that I can do and I want to take it step by step.

I'm still lacking some speed but I was very pleased that I got already under two minutes in Berlin. With a time like that, you're right back at the top."

Semenya said an attempt on the world record of 1min 53.28sec set by Jarmila Kratochvilova in Munich in 1983 was not yet on the cards.

"I am not in the right place right now to be thinking about improving the world record," she said. "But it's a dream of mine. If you train hard and want to do everything for your sport, then it should be a goal in the future."

Latecomer Semenya will not, however, be in the race to walk away with prize money of US$40,000 ($57,000) for topping her discipline over the season.

Of the 16 events up for grabs tonight, eight have already been decided: Bershawn Jackson (USA/400m hurdles), Christian Cantwell (USA/shot), Renaud Lavillenie (FRA/pole vault) and Andreas Thorkildsen (NOR/javelin) for the men, and Allyson Felix (USA/200m), Blanka Vlasic (CRO/high jump), Milcah Chemos (KEN/3000m steeple) and Yarelis Barrios (CUB/discus) in the women's events.

That leaves Gay with the mouth-watering prospect of going away with the men's 100m crown.

In a season which has seen Jamaican duo Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell sidelined through injury, Gay seemingly has the blue-riband event at his mercy provided he can keep Jamaican Yohan Blake and Trinidad's Richard Thompson at arm's length.

"I am now the fastest man in the 100m this year, but I certainly feel that I'm mentally and physically able to improve my personal best (9.69sec)," Gay said.

"Winning titles is more important than running fast times when you look at the place you acquire in history and the respect you get."

- NZPA, AFP

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