TOKYO – Francine Niyonsaba leaves for Tokyo, convinced that the difficult part of her Olympic odyssey was behind her.
“It has not been an easy journey since the silver medal in Rio,” she said.
Since winning the 800-meter Olympic medal for Burundi at the 2016 Games, Niyonsaba has been publicly called a man by some of her rivals after her medical records were leaked to the media. Difference in Sex Development (DSD), a condition in which hormones, genes, reproductive organs can show both female and male characteristics, and was banned by World Athletics, track and field’s global governing body, from participating in 400-meter events until the miles, unless she had suppressed testosterone.
Niyonsaba refused. Instead, she was the most unlikely qualifier for the 5,000-meter Olympics, an event that was more than five times her specialty.
So there was Niyonsaba on a humid Friday night at the Olympic Stadium, with a lead with some of the biggest names at international distance in a 5000 qualifying heat, an act of pride and inspiration of almost 15 minutes. She seems to have comfortably qualified for Monday’s final.
“I wanted to be here … to be an image to inspire young girls like me,” Niyonsaba said, “especially to girls in Africa.”
Behind her in the maintenance mix zone below the stadium, just off the track, a television screen flashes the 5,000 results. Next to Niyonsaba was the name “DQ.”
A group of American reporters asked her why she thought she was disqualified. Niyonsaba, unaware of the DQ, looked at the reporters in astonishment and then turned around to look at the screen.
“Oh, my God,” she groaned. “O. No! Why is that? ”
She spent much of the years in Rio asking a similar question.
Niyonsaba was at the center of one of the biggest field and field controversies in the five years before the Tokyo Games. By the end of the 2010s, many of the world’s leading half-mileers claimed that Niyonsaba, who trains with the Oregon Track Club in Eugene, had an unfair advantage over South African Caster Semenya and Margaret Wambui of Kenya as a result of DSD. .
‘It’s like we’re running two different races,’ Britain’s Lynsey Sharp complained.
The complaints and investigation only increased after the three Africans swept the Olympic 800 in Rio, Semenya took the gold, Niyonsaba and Wambui won the silver and bronze medals.
Semenya was used to being a target. For a decade when she won two Olympic and three World Championship titles, she was exposed and analyzed and debated, the most intimate details of her fact that she was belittled by critics and opponents who mocked her the worst terms.
Niyonsaba and Wambui were also increasingly scrutinized in Rio.
Niyonsaba publicly admitted in 2019 that she had hyperandrogenism, a condition characterized by the production of more testosterone than women without the condition.
World Athletics introduced rules in 2018 that require women with DSD to take hormone-suppressing drugs for six months to be eligible to compete internationally in races between 400 meters and the mile, on which the three races Semenya, Niyonsaba and Wambui focused . The rule went into effect in May 2019 and World Athletics Tests found that Semenya, Niyonsaba and Wambui all have the 46, XY karyotype and produce testosterone levels in the male series.
The women refused to take the hormones, and Semenya complains that World Athletics has reduced her to a “human guinea pig”.
Semenya has appealed to the Swiss court of arbitration for sport.
“For me, it’s about discrimination,” Niyonsaba said. ‘It does not make sense. I certainly did not choose to be born that way. I love running, and I will not stop running. ”
World Athletics claims that female athletes with DSD produce a higher than normal testosterone level. A study conducted by IAAF in 2017 found that higher testosterone levels in female athletes could yield a 3% improvement. “Female athletes with DSD should be considered ‘biological men,'” World Athletics told CAS. Semenya’s lawyers and scientists dispute the study’s research.
A three-member CAS panel said the IAAF policy was ‘discriminatory’ towards athletes with DSD, but two panelists agreed with the IAAF that the policy was ‘essential, reasonable and proportionate’ to the counteract advantages of DSD athletes over other female competitors. .
“I certainly did not choose to be born that way, what am I?” Niyonsaba said in an interview with the Olympic Channel. “I was created by God, so if anyone has more questions about it, he might ask God.”
Wambui stopped training. Niyonsaba and Semenya drew their attention to the 5,000. Semenya stayed in a final bid to qualify for Tokyo in late June, finishing 15 minutes, 50.12 seconds in a meet in Liège, Belgium, far from the Olympic standard of 15: 10.00.
That same month, Niyonsaba defied her opponents by running 14: 54.38 in France. Despite all the obstacles placed in front of her, she is back to the Olympics.
On Friday night, she ran in front of a field with Kenyan Hellen Obiri, winner of the last two World Championships at 5,000, who was over the 2,000 meters. When she stepped off the track and believed she was back for another Olympic final, she was convinced that she had conveyed her message to World Athletics and to girls pursuing their dreams in Africa and beyond.
And then she turned to see another nightmare on another TV screen. The official verdict was that Niyonsaba had stepped on the inside of the track at some point, although the offense was not clear to those who were watching the race.
Likewise, her joy and triumph were gone, replaced by all too familiar pain and frustration.
“No, no,” she said.
Niyonsaba turned away from the reporters and hurriedly started walking away in search of an official getting into the dark night.
She takes a few zealous steps and then turns back.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “I’m sorry.”