Caster Semenya brings her headline running act to the Cork City Sports

South African star will run in the 3,000m at the 69th staging of the prestigious event

A week ago, Caster Semenya labelled the leaders in African athletics as “cowards” for failing to stand up and fight for female athletes who are facing eligibility issues, then days ago she celebrated the birth of her second child with her wife Violet.

This Tuesday evening at the 69th edition of the Cork City Sports, Semenya is back on the track running one of her non-specialist distances, the 3,000 metres, as part of her “transition” from her once all-conquering ability over the shorter distances. Story of her life.

Now aged 31, the double Olympic 800m champion – 2012 in London and again in Rio 2016 – is currently prohibited from running internationally at events between 400m and a mile, unless she takes medication to reduce her naturally high testosterone levels, having been classed as an athlete with differences in sexual development (DSD). Semenya steadfastly refuses to take such medication.

Set for the MTU Stadium in Bishopstown, the Cork meeting has for many years been one of the big headline acts of the Irish athletics calendar and this one is no exception: Semenya’s presence, her first time racing in Ireland, unquestionably adds an extra layer of interest.


Originally, the South African woman was looking to use the race to prepare for the 5,000m at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham later this month, only that plan has now changed.

Last month, running at the African Championships in Mauritius, her first international race for South Africa since the 2018 Commonwealth Games where she won the 800m-1500m double, Semenya clocked 16:03.24 for 5,000m, in sixth – well off the 15:10.00 mark required for selection for the World Championships in Eugene, Oregon, which begin on Friday week.

She has since run 8:54.5 for 3,000m, and was due to race in Liege in Belgium last Thursday before a back injury forced her to withdraw. In Cork since last Friday, she’s targeting a time around 8:40, her opponents on the evening including Ireland’s Sarah Healy, already selected for Oregon in the 1,500m, the top Swedish runner Sarah Lahti also in the high-quality field.

“From talking with Caster the intention now is to use these few races as a sort of transition year into next season, and the focus on the 5,000m,” explained Cork meeting director Joe Hartnett. “The plan then is to return to South Africa and race some cross-county over the winter. But she’s hopefully recovered from last week now and very much looking forward to racing in Cork.”

Since the controversial ruling by World Athletics in 2019, Semenya has been openly critical of the limits placed on athletes with DSD. She lost an appeal and was later defeated at Switzerland’s Federal Supreme Court a year later, before going to the European Court of Human Rights where her case has yet to be heard.

A bronze medal meeting on the World Athletics Continental Tour, Bandon’s Phil Healy is also down to race 100m and 400m, Darragh McIlhenny eying the 17-year-old meeting record in the men’s 3,000m. along with and teenage star Nick Griggs. Hopes of a home win also rest with Israel Olatunde in the men’s 100m and Louise Shanahan in the women’s 800m.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics