GERMISTON, South Africa (Reuters) - Olympic 400 metres champion Wayde van Niekerk has backed South African compatriot Caster Semenya in her battle with the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), which now appears to have taken a new twist.
Semenya, a double 800 metres Olympic gold medallist, is waiting for the outcome of her appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to halt the introduction of new regulations by governing body IAAF that would require her to take medicine to limit her natural levels of testosterone.
The IAAF wants female athletes with differences of sexual development who run in events from 400 metres to a mile, to reduce their blood testosterone level to below five (5) nmol/L for a period of six months before they can compete, saying they have an unfair advantage.
"She's fighting for something beyond just track and field, she's fighting for woman in sports, in society and I respect her for that," Van Niekerk told reporters.
"I will support her and with the hard work and talent that she's been putting into the sport. With what she believes in and what she's dreaming for, I've got a lot of respect for her.
"I really hope and pray that everything just goes from strength to strength for her."
Semenya has sprung a surprise at the on-going South African Athletics Championships though, ditching the 800 metres and instead competing over 1,500 and 5,000-metres - the latter one would not require her to medically lower her testosterone level.
She stormed to victory in the 5,000-metres final in a modest time of 16:05.97, but looked to have lots left in the tank as she passed the finish line.
Semenya beat fellow Olympian and defending national 5,000m champion Dominique Scott in Thursday's final but the latter admitted she is unsure whether the 800m specialist could be a serious Olympic contender over the longer distance.
"Honestly‚ I have no idea‚" Scott said. "Before today I probably would have said no. It's hard to compare a 5,000 at altitude to a 5,000 at sea level.
"But I think she's an amazing runner and I don't think there's any limit or ceiling on what she can do."
Van Niekerk, the 400m world record holder, had to abort his comeback from a knee injury, that had sidelined him for 18 months, following a combination of cold weather and a wet track.
"We are trying to take the correct decisions now early in the year so as not to put myself in any harm," he said.
"It was a bit chilly this entire week prepping and coming through here as well it was quite cold and it caused bit of tightness in my leg. We decided to not risk it.
"My recovery is going well and I would like to be back in competition this year, but will only do so if I can deliver a good performance.
"I am a competitor and respect my opponents, so I need to be at my best when I return."
(Reporting by Nick Said, additional reporting by Siyabonga Sishi; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)