Semenya takes on 1500m in Lausanne, tastes defeat

While Caster Semenya initially kept pace with Laura Muir and Sifan Hassan, the South African eventually lost touch with them to only finish sixth in the 1500m race in Lausanne. ALAIN GROSCLAUDE/AFP/Getty Images

In a rare occurrence for her, Caster Semenya was only among the 'also rans' at Thursday night's IAAF Diamond League meeting in Lausanne.

Despite her favoured 800m being on the schedule, Semenya chose to run in the 1500m race and risk the prospect of defeat. That is exactly what happened, as Shelby Houlihan of the United States sprinted past Britain's Laura Muir in the final 50 metres of a to-and-fro race to win in a personal best and meeting record of 3:57.34.

Sifan Hassan, the Ethiopia-born Dutch runner, claimed the final podium place while the 26-year-old South African had to settle for sixth place in a time of 4:00.44. In fairness to Semenya, her time was not that much short of her personal best and national record and comes less than a week after she ran faster than she ever has in the 800m at Paris leg of the Diamond League season.

All told, Semenya's bid to challenge for both the 800m and 1500m Diamond League trophies at the end of the season may be in jeopardy after missing out on the podium in Lausanne. She will only get one more opportunity to qualify for the 1500m season finale, at the Birmingham leg on 18 August.


Earlier on Thursday evening, Francine Niyonsaba took full advantage of Semenya's absence to win the 800m race.

The Burundian did have to work for her victory, but still emerged strongest to win in 1:57.80. In the process she finished clear ahead of the London 2017 bronze medallist Ajee Wilson of the United States. Behind her, early leader Habitam Alemu of Ethiopia edged Kenya's Olympic bronze medallist Margaret Wambui to third place.

Following her win, Niyonsaba told track-side media how Thursday's win fits into her season's ambitions.

"It is always good to win and with this kind of ambiance it feels even better," she said. "One of my main goals this season is the African championships during the first week of August. I am here to push my body to its limit and this is what I have been regularly doing. I would like to improve my PB this season and simply run better and better.


One African who is running better and better as the season goes on, is Marie-Josee Ta Lou -- the Ivorian who had to be at her best in a stacked 100m race.

As it happened, the silver medallist over 100 and 200m at last year's IAAF World Championships, continued her winning habit this season by stopping the clock in 10.90. In the process she overcame Jamaica's Olympic 100 and 200m champion Elaine Thompson and the Dutch sprinter who beat her over the longer sprint in London, Dafne Schippers.

Ta Lou's Ivorian compatriot Murielle Ahoure showed why she became world indoor 60m champion in March by emerging quickest out of the blocks at Stade Olympique de la Pontaise, but faded to only finish sixth.

It was left to Thompson to be Ta Lou's closest challenger as she took second place, with American rising star Jenna Prandini of the United States edging Schippers for third.

"My goal today was simply to win," said Ta Lou track-side. "I haven't been feeling that well psychologically and physically."

As it happened, home sprinter Mujinga Kambundji (who is part Congolese through her father), also had reason to celebrate despite finishing fifth, as her 11:03 set a new Swiss national record.


As dramatic as 100m races can be, that honour fell upon the men's 5000m race on Thursday.

Birhanu Balew, who runs in Bahrain colours but was born in Ethiopia, emerged victorious in the race and set a personal best and 2018 world-leading time of 13:01.09 in the process -- however his victory came amid extraordinary closing sequence.

While Balew as well as Yomif Kejelcha and Selemon Barega were rounding the final bend together, the two young Ethiopians began stumbling and as Kejelcha fell to the ground he grabbed hold of Barega's shorts and almost twisted him through a full spin.

Barega, though, regained his composure quickly enough to still finish second in, unbelievably, a season's best of 13:02.67. The 18-year-old did have a few choice words with Kejelcha when he finally arrived in the finish area but it's more likely that his rivals during next week's IAAF World U20 Championships Tampere will feel the brunt of his frustration of missing out on the spoils for winning.