By Oliver Brown

On a sultry night at Rio's Olympic Stadium, two strikingly different scenes unfurled in the aftermath of the women's 800m final.

In one section of the track, Caster Semenya, Francine Niyonsaba and Margaret Wambui celebrated with gusto, embracing coaches and draping themselves in national colours. In another, Melissa Bishop, Joanna Jozwik and Britain's Lynsey Sharp huddled together in tearful solidarity at their failure to grasp a medal. All three had run personal best times - in Bishop's case, a Canadian record - only to find themselves rendered also-rans.

An unsettling photograph captured this schism within the field perfectly.


Semenya extended her arm to Sharp to exchange pleasantries, but the vanquished runner held tight to Bishop, ignoring the gesture. The comments in the aftermath proved the snub was no illusion.

"You could see how emotional it was between Melissa, Joanna and I," Sharp said. "It's out of our control. We're just relying on the people at the top to sort it out."

For the past 12 months, the IAAF has heeded her call. Eight years after Semenya surged to global notice as an 18-year-old world champion over 800m, track and field's governing body is attempting to reintroduce gender testing, to restrict the amount of testosterone female athletes can have in their bodies, following the latest research into hyperandrogenism. Semenya, from a grindingly poor background in South Africa's Limpopo province, near the Zimbabwe border, was born with no womb or ovaries but instead, due to a chromosomal abnormality, internal testes. Her testosterone level is roughly three times that of the average woman.

Where the IAAF has been asleep at the wheel on doping, it remains a dog with a bone on the Semenya issue. It is no wonder that the 26-year-old, who found her 1500m bronze at the expense of Laura Muir blown up into more ghoulish scrutiny of her biological identity, has grown heartily sick of being cast as a pariah.

"It's been like this since 2009," she sighed. "For me, when you listen to music and have one song playing each and every time, it's quite boring. I have no time for this."

Semenya is much a victim of bigotry aroused by her hormonal make-up as of unpleasant racial slurs. The women's 800m on Monday morning (NZT) has served to crystallise one of the sport's most pernicious divides. Jozwik, who trailed home fifth in Rio, said she was glad to be "the first European, the second white" to cross the line.

Where Semenya is concerned, Sharp is adamant that she is not racing on a fair level. She speaks with some knowledge, having written her dissertation about hypoadrogenic athletes while at Napier University, and her concerns have been compounded by the addition of two other athletes, in the muscular shape of Kenya's Wambui and Niyonsaba of Burundi, to the 800m mix.

It is incumbent upon the IAAF, though, to demonstrate that Sharp and her aggrieved cohort are at a sufficient disadvantage to force a change to the rules. It claims to have done so, unveiling findings by Stephane Bernon, of the Monaco Institute of Sports Medicine, and Pierre-Yves Garnier, director of the IAAF's health and science department, that women with the highest testosterone run 800m, on average, 1.78 per cent quicker than those with the lowest.

This sounds a considerable margin - and indeed it is, equating to 2.5s at Semenya's level - but it does not meet the threshold of statistical significance. CAS was clear in telling the IAAF it would need to show that the difference was of the order that male elite middle-distance athletes enjoyed over their female counterparts: around 10 to 12 per cent. The discrepancy the IAAF has put forward is of nothing like this magnitude.

And yet it seems intent to reverse relentlessly towards the realm of the dreaded 'sex-testing'. We should not sugarcoat what this represents. Semenya has been subject to multiple invasive examinations, forced to admit in public that she "pees like a woman". Now, if the IAAF has its way, she could be compelled to take testosterone-suppressing medication to keep her place in women's athletics, despite medical opinion that suggests the long-term use of such drugs can produce long-term health problems in women, including osteoporosis. It an organisation supposed to uphold a duty of care to its athletes. It needs to recognise soon that Semenya, a dignified and dedicated young woman, has suffered enough.