Russian Mariya Savinova rained on Caster Semenya’s parade on Sunday, nipping past the controversial South African for World gold in the women’s 800m.
Reigning world indoor and European champion Savinova timed her run to perfection, coming from near the back of the pack at 600m to clinch the victory in 1min 55.87sec.
Semenya, looking to bury controversy over her true gender, took silver (1:56.35), with Kenya’s 2007 champion Janeth Jepkosgei claiming bronze (1:57.42).
“I knew the race would be tough and very fast,” said Savinova. “But I am quite surprised about my time and the power and stamina I found in my body in the last 100 metres.
“When I saw Caster’s great shape before the race, I told myself that she was very well prepared and she was unbeatable to me. But come the last 30 metres and I knew I was going to win. I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face.”
Jepkosgei set a fast pace from the off, followed by Jamaican Kenia Sinclair and American Alysia Montano, with Semenya sat in fifth ahead of Savinova.
The Kenyan hit 400 metres at 55.5sec, and immediately Semenya made a move to pass around Russian Ekaterina Kostetskaya, then reeled in Montano, Sinclair and went around Jepkosgei with 150 metres to go.
As the 20-year-old hit the home stretch, all eyes at a packed Daegu Stadium were on her, but the South African had not bet on Savinova, who produced a startling burst to cruise past the field to the line.
“The race was pretty good,” said Semenya. “Even though I got a silver today I really enjoyed it. It was better than two years ago. I know I won gold in Berlin, but I am feeling much better today.”
Jepkosgei called the competition “tough”, lamenting a tiring round of heats that sapped her prowess at turning on the gas to burn off rivals.
“All the athletes were strong,” the Kenyan team captain said. “So I decided to take the lead and kill them with my pace. I felt a little tired after qualification but I wanted a medal once more.”
It was a timely return to form for Semenya, who had come into the worlds with serious doubts over her fitness having pulled out of the recent World University Games in China with a back injury.
After her stunning win in Berlin in 2009, Semenya found herself the target of allegations that saw her cast into limbo because of doubts over her gender. But she was cleared by the sport’s world governing body, the IAAF, and largely accepted by her peers.