2021 Track & Field Season Was Probably the Best Ever

The recently concluded 2021 track season was one of the best I ever witnessed. It was probably the best if one were to consider the challenges faced the last two years and the number of records established.

However, despite the efforts of the world’s best athletes, one omission from exploits on the track was the redoubtable Caster Semenya. For years, the South African multiple World and Olympic champion has been the subject of ambivalence from some in track and field circles. She was unceremoniously pushed out of her specialty 800m, along with Namibian runners Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi, 400m record breakers who now had to move down to shorter sprint distances to level the playing field, as ordered by World Athletics (formerly IAAF), the global governing body for track and field. The science dictates that these women produce a higher-than-normal testosterone level, thus making it unfair for them to compete in events above the 400m. 

According to World Athletics, it was determined that the levels of testosterone these women produced, gave them an unfair advantage against their counterparts. They had two choices: either switch their event or submit to medication that would significantly alter their levels of testosterone.

The Issue with Testosterone

Why is testosterone an issue? Testosterone promotes a heavier concentration of red blood cells. The more blood cells that a person has, the more oxygen is sent to their muscles. This results in much faster times and greater recovery time. In general terms, that’s the basic explanation of why men outperform women in sporting events. 

This, then, is the reason Semenya and company have battled World Athletics (the IAAF when the problem surfaced) for years, arguing that it would be unfair to have them submit to medication to reduce the testosterone level they naturally produce. Also, they opine that it is unfair to have them race in events that the governing body thrusts upon them. Semenya did not successfully convert to a substitute event. However, fellow African, Christine Mboma has transitioned very well. Aside from running a junior world record in the women’s 200m at 21.78s, Mboma has had a successful 2021 campaign which includes the Olympic silver in said 200m.

Many, including Kenya’s Margaret Wambui who suffered similar fate to Semenya’s, feel that there should be a separate category in track and field for athletes like Semenya, Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi, Mboma, and Masilingi. That way, the playing field would be the same for everyone. Incidentally, Niyonsaba, who was forced to leave the 800m, stepped up to the 2000m and recently shattered the women’s 2000m world record in Zagreb. World Athletics has not indicated that it is willing to forge that compromise especially since they have won all the court decisions pertaining to this case.

This hurts everyone and especially Semenya, who was dominant in the 800m over the last several years. Meantime, the new kid on the block, 19-yr-old Sudanese-America Athing Mu, has taken the event to a new level. Track enthusiasts were robbed of a chance of seeing these two daughters of Africa clash at the Tokyo Olympics.

Other Outstanding Performances

Despite all the challenges the track world has faced the last two years, there were some notable performances on the track. The dynamic Elaine Thompson-Herah retained her Olympic sprint titles (Usain Bolt being the only other person to do so) and helped her team to win the women’s sprint relay. She capped a great year by running a spectacular 10.54s at the Prefontaine Classic. Her teammate, Shelly-Ann-Fraser-Pryce completed a record 13 straight sub-11.00s 100m runs and became the only athlete to win medals in four straight 100m finals at the Olympics. Later, she ended her year with a personal best of 10.60s in her pet event. They, along with Shericka Jackson, copped all three medals in the Olympic 100m.


Warholm seems to be in disbelief after seeing his new world record.

There were other masterful performances through the year, which further encapsulates the unbelievable 2021 season: For example, Dutch runner Sifan Hassan won two gold and a bronze medal in the 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000; Shaunae Miller-Uibo retained her 400m title; Norwegian Karsten Warholm’s and American Sydney McLaughlin’s annihilation of the men’s and women’s 400m hurdles world record, respectively, and McLaughlin’s continued mastery over compatriot Delilah Muhammad.

Not to be outdone were Venezuela’s triple jumper Yulimar Rojas and USA’s shot putter Ryan Crouser who blew away the world records in their respective field events.

 I predict some excellent performances for the 2022 season, which will feature the World Championships, to be held in the US for the first time. I expect that these championships will cement the greatness of some, while ending the career of others. 

Will Semenya and others be back? We hope the ruling body strikes a compromise that works for everyone. On this, I am not holding my breath, and neither should you.

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