British Runner Lynsey Sharp Protests Testosterone Suppression Rule Change

Photo Credit: Getty Images
Photo Credit: Getty Images

On Saturday night in Rio, British runner Lynsey Sharp finished sixth in the 800 meter race while Caster Semenya, from South Africa, took the gold. In the wake of her disappointing finish, Sharp bemoans that hyperandrogenic athletes like Semenya skew the competition.


To be hyperandrogenic means one’s body begets “excessive” androgens, like testosterone. When Semenya won the 800 meter race in Berlin’s 2009 World Championships, she became the subject of contentious debate. Prohibited from future competitions, she was compelled to undergo “gender testing.” Following tests, Semenya was permitted to race in July 2010, but under the strict condition that she lower her testosterone levels via medication. Her case inspired a rule that all hyperandrogenic female athletes maintain testosterone levels of 10 nmol/L.

But, as the Guardian reports, that rule has been overturned. It’s still not clear that hyperandrogenic women possess a marked athletic advantage. Semenya was thus able to race in Rio without managing her levels of testosterone.

Meanwhile, Sharp argues that this turn of events did stack the cards in Semenya’s favor. She moreover implies that other runners agree with her.

“I have tried to avoid the issue all year,” Sharp told the BBC. “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.”

And despite coming in sixth place, Sharp emphasizes that the competition was a close one.

“I was coming down the home straight, we were not far away, and you can see how close it is. That is encouraging. We will work hard and aim to come back even stronger.”


Sharp achieved her personal best in the race — 1 minute 57.69 seconds. She does, however, mention that making some adjustments might yield better results.

“I’ll have to watch it back,” she said. “I feel a bit disappointed. I had a lot left at the end, but I don’t know if that means I ran it right or had too much left. I came through strong at the end, that was good, but we shall see.”


Yet Sharp seems more certain that the overturned rule cinched her loss, and others’ losses too. She draws attention to the embraces she shared with Canada’s Melissa Bishop and Poland’s Joanna Jozwik at the finish as demonstrations of solidarity.

“We see each other week in, week out, so we know how each other feel,” she vaguely remarks.


Ronald Raven Symoné 

I have PCOS and, thus, higher androgen levels than the average woman.

It’s a depressing condition to have, but in looking for some kind of silver lining I came across an interesting statistic. While about 20% of women in the general population have PCOS, 37% of elite female athletes have it.…

Does that mean the higher testorone levels give them an advantage? Probably. However, does that translate into an unfair advantage?

Usain Bolt and Michael Phelp aren’t the best of the best simply because of their training, they also have genetic advantages over their competitors. Would anyone suggest they shouldn’t compete because they are genetic outliers?

Obviously I think taking PEDs to increase one’s testosterone levels should be verboten. However, if your body just naturally produces more testosterone because you were born intersex or have an incurable medical condition, is it fair to be penalized?