Christine Mboma was banned from competing in the 400m
Seb Coe, World Athletics president, has defended the sport’s controversial testosterone rules, insisting Christine Mboma’s surprise Olympic 200 metres silver medal showed the governing body was right to crack down on women who have naturally elevated hormone levels.
In April, Namibian 18-year-olds Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi ran the second and third-fastest 400m times in the world this year, only to then be told a fortnight before the Tokyo Games that they were banned from contesting the event because they were found to be athletes with Difference of Sexual Development (DSD).
Female DSD athletes are not allowed to compete at distances from 400m to one mile unless they take medication to lower their testosterone levels.
Both Namibians instead made a late switch to the 200m, with Mboma lowering the world under-20 record in every round in Tokyo. She catapulted herself onto the podium with a jet-heeled late surge in Tuesday’s final to finish in 21.81 seconds. Masilingi came sixth.
Asked whether Mboma’s performance might cause the governing body to reassess the rules, Coe said: “The reason we went from 400 to the mile was these were the distances that we were advised scientifically, biomechanically and physiologically were the ones that were most impacted.
“We’ve never said that there may not be advantages at lower levels elsewhere. But that was what we settled on.
“You’re never going to satisfy everybody. But what I did want to do was find a navigable route through, which was testosterone control.
“It’s not a perfect solution but, at this moment, it is one that is working. For me, it was about keeping somebody in the sport.
“It was pretty observable that [Mboma’s] last 30 or 40 metres were impactful. But, actually, I think that vindicated the decision about the 400m. If you are finishing a 200m like that, it supports the judgement that was made.”
Namibia's Beatrice Masilingi
Given she had only raced the 200m a handful of times prior to competing in Tokyo, Coe also admitted it was “possible” for Mboma to break Florence Griffith Joyner’s 21.34sec world record that has stood since 1988.
The entire Rio Olympics women’s 800m podium is currently unable to compete in that event, with all three athletes – Caster Semenya, Francine Niyonsaba and Margaret Wambui – affected by the DSD rules.
Wambui has called for the sport to introduce a third category for DSD athletes to compete against each other – something Semenya fiercely opposes – and Coe said it was a possibility in the future.
“My responsibility is always to do whatever I can to maintain the integrity of competition and that level playing field,” he said. “My successors may even decide that you have classifications. At the moment we don’t and I think that’s the right approach.
“I don’t think that’s where most of my [World Athletics] council are at the moment. But this is a debate at the moment.
“I’ve heard coaches and people who are interested in the sport, and more broadly from the sport, have discussed that.”