Team GB runner Lynsey Sharp was at the centre of a row over so-called intersex athletes last night after tearfully admitting it was “difficult” competing against them at Rio 2016.
Sharp, who came sixth after Caster Semenya powered to victory in the women’s 800m, appeared to criticise recent law reforms allowing runners to avoid testosterone-suppressants.
She was forced to clarify that she had “tremendous respect” for Semenya after earlier fighting back tears as she told the BBC: “The public can see how difficult it is with the change of rule but all we can do is give it our best.”
Semenya, a South African with levels of testosterone three times higher than that of the average woman, was able to compete without suppressants after the Court of Arbitration for Sport suspended regulations on “hyperandrogenism” in a case last July.
Caster Semenya destroys rest of the field to claim easy goldPlay!00:17
Silver medallist Francine Niyonsaba and Margaret Wambui, who got a bronze, have also faced questions about their testosterone levels in recent reports.
Sharp has more reason than most to understand the debate, having written a dissertation on the subject while studying law at Napier University.
She was forced to wipe away tears as she said after the race: “I have tried to avoid the issue all year. You can see how emotional it all was. We know how each other feels.
“It is out of our control and how much we rely on people at the top sorting it out. The public can see how difficult it is with the change of rule but all we can do is give it our best.”
Sharp, 26, who ran a personal best 1min 57.69secs, hinted that her feelings are shared by fellow athletes Melissa Bishop of Canada and Poland’s Joanna Jozwik, who also missed out on medals.
The three hugged together after the finish in what Sharp said was a show of unity. “We see each other week in, week out, so we know how each other feel,” she said.
In a reference to questions surrounding the sex of other competitors, British 400m runner Nigel Levine tweeted afterwards: “Happy for @LynseySharp for coming 3rd in the women 800m.”
However, Sharp later clarified her comments after facing criticism. She said in a statement on Twitter that “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Caster”, before adding: “I gave an honest and diplomatic response.”
Semenya, who reportedly has internal testes but no womb or ovaries due to an abnormality, has been dominating middle-distance running since a ruling which previously forced her to take drugs to cut her testosterone was overturned.
Last week, Sebastian Coe indicated the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) would challenge the Court of Arbitration ruling which suspended the monitoring of female athletes with higher than usual levels of testosterone.
But others have launched a #handsoffcaster campaign online as a human rights debate rages on her continued involvement.