Kenya’s Olympic 800 metres bronze medallist Margaret Nyairera Wambui can feel her career slipping away from her, with no idea when, or if, she will be able to compete internationally again.
The 24-year-old is one of several star female athletes affected by an International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ruling this month that requires women with high levels of testosterone to take medication to suppress it.
The new IAAF rules took effect on May 8 after South Africa’s two-time Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya lost a legal challenge against them.
The IAAF has maintained that the rules are necessary for fair competition, arguing that athletes with high levels of testosterone benefit from increased bone and muscle strength similar to men who have gone through puberty.
However, critics highlight that the very nature of elite athletic success is down to one physical advantage or another, such as swimmers with disproportionately big hands or feet, or basketball players who are taller than the average person.
The new rule applies to distances from 400m to a mile, and includes the heptathlon, which concludes with an 800m race.
Wambui said simply switching to another distance like 5,000m was not possible, with different skills and training needed that would take years to reach elite level.
“I am not going to take medication because I am not sick and … those are chemicals you are putting in your body, you don’t know how it will affect you later,” she said.
She said that maybe the idea of having different categories of runners — comparing it to boxing, where heavyweights don’t fight flyweights — might be “a good idea to make it fair.”