ROME — Caster Semenya's surprisingly slow performance at a meet in Italy can be explained by fatigue and sickness, the world champion's manager said Wednesday.
Semenya finished a distant ninth in the 800 meters at the Palio della Quercia in Rovereto on Tuesday.
In her fifth race following an 11-month gender dispute, the South African clocked a dismal 2 minutes, 7.16 seconds – nearly seven seconds behind Italian winner Elisa Cusma Piccione.
"She had no energy during the warmup, her legs were really heavy. She just had a bad day," Semenya's Finnish manager Jukka Harkonen told The Associated Press. "She was totally tired and coughing the whole night.
"She's a 19-year-old girl and she hasn't done a lot of races like this before. She wasn't ready and we have to accept that."
Meet director Luigi D'Onofrio wasn't satisfied by the explanation, saying it was still "incomprehensible" to see Semenya running so slow.
"There's no certainty that she did it on purpose. I mean why would she? It hurts both her and the meet," D'Onofrio told the AP. "But it's not a good enough explanation for me."
Despite his skepticism, D'Onofrio still paid Semenya an appearance fee "in line" with what world champions command.
It was Semenya's second consecutive loss after she placed third at the Diamond League meet in Brussels on Friday. In Brussels, Semenya finished in 1:59.66 – the fastest time of her comeback.
In Italy, she was nowhere close to victory. Semenya was third to last after the first lap and never made a move to the front.
Harkonen acknowledged that Semenya gave up once she realized midway through the race that she couldn't compete, but insisted that was better than not racing at all.
"It was better just to ease up and jog in," the manager said, adding that Semenya should recover in time to race in Milan next week and at the Commonwealth Games in October.
Cusma Piccione questioned Semenya's gender at last year's worlds in Berlin, calling her "a man" when Semenya won the 800 title. After Tuesday's race, Semenya walked over to Cusma Piccione to congratulate her.