Namibia teenagers barred from Olympic 400 over testosterone

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Two 18-year-old runners from Namibia were barred Friday from running in the 400 meters at the Olympics because of high natural testosterone levels, becoming the latest female athletes to be affected by the same contentious regulations that have sidelined Caster Semenya.

Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi, who burst into Olympic medal reckoning with some blisteringly fast times this year, were subjected to “medical assessments” by track governing body World Athletics at their training camp in Italy, the Namibia Olympic committee said.

They were withdrawn from the 400 meters by the Namibian team after the tests revealed high natural testosterone which meant they wouldn’t be allowed to run in the 400 in Tokyo.

The pair can still run in the 200 meters, where they’ve also qualified, because track’s testosterone rules only apply to distances between 400 meters and one mile.

In a separate statement, the Namibian track federation said the two teenagers would still go to the Olympics and “will focus their full attention on the 200m event.” It said the runners were “disappointed” but “they remain in high spirits.”

Their exclusion from the 400 sparked angry reactions and criticism of the rules from numerous political parties in Namibia.

Before this year, both athletes were relative unknowns.

Mboma ran 48.54 seconds to win a 400 race in Poland on Wednesday, which was an under-20 world record and the seventh-fastest time ever recorded by a woman in the 400. It was also the fastest time in the world this year ahead of all the event’s big names, and the fastest time in the world since 2019.

Masilingi’s 49.53 seconds at a low-level meet in Zambia in April stands as the third fastest time of 2021 behind Mboma and Shaunae Miller-Uibo, the current Olympic champion.

Those eye-catching times spurred World Athletics to order the testosterone tests.

“It is important to understand that both our athletes were not aware of this condition,” the Namibia Olympic committee said.

The Namibian Olympic body said it was in close contact with World Athletics’ medical officer Stephane Bermon, one of the architects of the testosterone rules, “with regards to the way forward in the interest of our two sprinters.”

The situation is reminiscent of the highly controversial sex verification tests conducted on a teenage Semenya when she broke onto the international scene at the 2009 world championships in Berlin.

World Athletics’ latest testosterone regulations have been fiercely debated since they were introduced in 2018.

They have resulted in Semenya, the two-time Olympic champion, being unable to run in her favorite event and defend her title in Tokyo. She has launched legal appeals in various courts, calling the rules unfair and discriminatory, but has lost two of those appeals and is waiting for a third to be heard.

The rules have also affected two other high-profile African athletes, Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and Margaret Wambui of Kenya, who won silver and bronze behind Semenya at the 2016 Olympics, where the testosterone issue became a dominant story.

Niyonsaba and Wambui have both also been barred from the 800, although Niyonsaba has qualified for the Olympics in the 5,000 meters and says she will run in Tokyo.

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