Johannesburg – Caster Semenya will target a sub-two minute race in the women’s 800 metres final at this weekend’s SA Senior Championships in Port Elizabeth, her coach, Maria Mutola, said on Wednesday.
Mutola, the three-time world 800 metres champion, said it was vital for her charge to run the two-lap race below two minutes ahead of the European track season, in preparation for the London Olympic Games in July.
“We are looking for anything under two minutes on Saturday,” Mutola said.
“If she runs two-something it could be a problem confidence-wise.
“If we go to Europe with anything under two minutes it would be a good thing.”
In her first 800m race of the season, Semenya clocked 2:03.60, missing the Olympic qualifying standard of 1:59.90 at a Yellow Pages Series meeting in Potchefstroom in March.
The 21-year-old set her first qualifying mark at last year’s IAAF World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, where she won the silver medal in a time of 1:56.35.
She hoped to get her second qualifying mark out of the way in Port Elizabeth, in order to book herself a place in the country’s Olympic team.
“I am capable of running below two minutes so I will try to run it, as long as the weather is good,” Semenya said on Wednesday.
They had put a lot of emphasis on building Semenya’s confidence in a year that could be emotionally draining, according to Mutola.
“Very good advice [for Semenya] is to be in shape really, to stay healthy and go to London in shape to be able to win it,” she said.
“[After] all the Olympics I have been to, [we know] it is going to take under two minutes to be able to win it.
“You have to produce 1:56/1:55 to be able to win the race because everyone is training for the same event, to be an Olympic champion.” Semenya’s mentor was pleased with her progress and hoped she would take charge when she lined up on Saturday.
“It is going to be a difficult year and also an exciting year,” Mutola said.
“It is very important to stay in shape and it is important for her this weekend to run under two minutes.
“She is training well and I believe she can do it, she can go under two minutes.
“What is difficult at the SA championships for someone is to take over and just try to run under two minutes.”
The duo teamed up ahead of the Olympic season after Semenya, who won gold and silver at the last two global championships, parted ways with long-time coach Michael Seme.
Semenya said she was fortunate to be able to call on the advice and experience of Mutola in such an important year.
“I am very happy with our relationship,” she said.
“It is good to have the experience of an Olympic athlete.
“I am confident but I have not done enough racing.”
They looked forward to a good race at the national championships, Mutola said, and she was confident Semenya would achieve her target.
“I believe qualification is no problem and I believe she will be able to run a good race this weekend, but the most important thing is to have confidence in oneself.
“Going to these European track meets, you have to be able to win over there, run good times and go to the Olympics with a lot of confidence.
“That is a very important thing for athletes.”