LONDON (AFP) –
Russian world champion Mariya Savinova held off a fast-finishing Caster Semenya of South Africa on Saturday to win the 800 metres Olympic title.
Savinova, who was winning a fifth successive major title, made the decisive break coming round the bend and while the young South African came from fifth to second she had given herself too much to do.
Savinova timed 1min 56.19sec to Semenya’s 1:57.23 while another Russian, Ekaterina Poistogova, took bronze.
“It’s just amazing. Right now I can’t feel anything, but I’m amazed,” said the 26-year-old champion.
Semenya accepted that she had not run the greatest tactical race of her life — she was last going down the back straight.
“We all make mistakes, hopefully the next race will be better,” said Semenya.
“It was a good race, I am happy with the result. I left it a bit late, but I am happy with the silver. But my coach (former Olympic champion Maria Mutola) is not really happy but Savinova is a good athlete, a good competitor.
“I just need to train harder. I must let the (Russians) know I’m there.”
Kenya’s defending champion Pamela Jelimo had taken the pace up 300 metres out but was overwhelmed by Savinova’s burst and the 22-year-old was passed by Semenya and edged out on the line by Poistogova.
“I knew the Russians were very strong,” said Jelimo.
“What can you do? You have to accept that sometimes you are at the top and sometimes you are not.”
“My body did not stick to the task, but for me it’s the best I can do.”
For Semenya it was a second successive silver medal at a major championships – she was second in last year’s world championship – after being cleared to return after a traumatic time following her world championship win in 2009.
Semenya had to undergo drug tests followed by gender tests following that magnificent victory in Berlin.
She was barred from the track for almost a year before being cleared to run again and her comeback was hampered by a lower back injury and a growing belief that coach Michael Seme had taken her as far as he could.
“I’ve been waiting all year for this,” said the 21-year-old.
“The last four years have not been easy. I’m already thinking about Rio (2016 Olympic Games) and I hope I’ll be there.”
Semenya said that people back in her home province of Limpopo (the northernmost province in the country) would probably put on some kind of celebratory party.
“I don’t know, maybe they are going to throw a street bash or something