Days after the International Association of Athletics Federations effectively barred Olympic runner Caster Semenya from competition over her testosterone levels, Kenya has jounced two of its runners from the IAAF World Relays championship over hormone tests.
According to the East African, Athletics Kenya director of competitions Paul Mutwii cited the IAAF’s decision in explaining why the team dropped Maximila Imali and Evangeline Makena. Now that the most powerful authority in international sports has decreed that women with high testosterone levels cannot compete in certain events unless they take hormone suppressants, Mutwii said, “We could not risk traveling with the two athletes.”
Imali, 23, holds Kenya’s record in the 400-meter race and was sidelined at the world championships in 2015 when a blood test showed she had hyperandrogenism, a condition that causes the body to produce more androgens than average. For women, “average” means 0.12 to 1.79 nanomoles of testosterone per liter of blood; for men, it’s 7.7 to 29.4 nanomoles per liter. In 2018, an IAAF regulation mandated that female competitors must have a maximum of five nanomoles of testosterone per liter of blood to compete in women’s events, unless they meet certain criteria (like a willingness to take testosterone blockers).
Semenya, a South African runner and two-time Olympic champion, has been pushing back against the IAAF’s hormone guidelines for a decade — ever since the federation obligated her to take a “gender verification” test in the wake of a remarkable 800-meter race she ran in 2009. Semenya says the IAAF has specifically targeted her with a campaign to qualify what is normal in terms of athletes’ naturally occurring hormones. Their guidelines, she said, are “discriminatory, unnecessary, unreliable, and disproportionate.”
As Olympic swimmer Casey Legler pointed out in an essay for the Cut, athletes’ bodies may present all kinds of naturally occurring advantages — large hands and feet that help propel Legler in the water, an unusually low level of lactic acid that prevents Michael Phelps’s muscles from tiring as quickly as his competitors’ — the IAAF has not felt compelled to regulate. And high testosterone levels may be attributable to a number of biological factors, like polycystic ovary syndrome, which affects an estimated one in ten U.S. women.
Imali told the East African that she and her teammates took the blood tests the Friday before the IAAF’s May 1 decision. “This is a scheme to demoralize us,” she said. “I am not ready to quit athletics nor to take a suppressant treatment. I am so happy the way God made me to be.”