LAPPEENRANTA, Finland (AP) — Caster Semenya won her first race since being cleared to return to competition after underdoing gender tests, winning the 800 meters on Thursday against a weak field but in front of a supportive crowd at the Lappeenranta Games.
The South African won in a time of 2 minutes, 4.22 seconds, almost 10 seconds slower than the national record she set when she won gold at the world championships in Berlin last August in 1:55.45.
Semenya, though, was happy with her performance at the low-key meet after a such a long absence.
“To come and run a 2:04 is not easy, especially after what happened,” Semenya said. “I was a little bit nervous because it has been a long time not competing.”
“It’s a new beginning,” she added.
Semenya appeared nervous before the race on a hot and humid night at the Kimpinen Stadium, where the attendance of 4,136 was approximately 1,000 greater than last year’s.
WATCH NBC SPORTS COVERAGE ON SEMENYA’S COMEBACK
Running in a purple top and black shorts, Semenya, who started in lane 4, was level with most of her competition before pulling away on the home straight to beat a weak field.
Her appearance concluded the event in the quiet town 135 miles (220 kilometers) east of the capital, Helsinki.
She said that she enjoyed running in front of a supportive crowd and that she thinks she might get the same reaction wherever she races from now on.
Mari Jarvenpaa of Finland finished the race second in 2:04.71 and Olha Yekymenko of the Ukraine third in 2:05.
Semenya’s coach, Michael Seme, said that he was happy to get her career underway again.
“This first comeback helped us a lot because now we’re feeling stronger and stronger,” Seme said. “The two days training here helped us a lot.”
Manager Jukka Harkonen said he thought her performance had been “fantastic” given that “she put on her spikes for the first time three days ago.”
Semenya is aiming to be in gold medal contention at October’s Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India.
Her next race is at the Lapinlahti Games on Sunday, before she returns to South Africa to continue training.
Harkonen said he expects her to run two or three seconds faster at the Lapinlahti meet.
It was as an 18-year-old in Berlin that Semenya burst onto the scene when she won in her first appearance at a major final. Her dramatic improvement in times and muscular appearance led the International Association of Athletics Federations to order gender tests.
It sparked outrage in South Africa, where she had returned home a national hero after a stunning victory. Public officials rallied behind her and her lawyers entered into negotiations with the IAAF that lasted 10 months.
Semenya refused to criticize the IAAF and said she can run faster than she did in Berlin.
“Maybe it was good for me to rest after I ran my fastest time last year,” Semenya said. “I’m still young, the muscles are still developing, so, yeah, I can run faster than that.”
Semenya was left off South Africa’s team for the upcoming African championships after failing a fitness test the day after she was cleared by the IAAF to continue running as a woman.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.