Doha: Caster Semenya will bid to move the spotlight from new IAAF rules for female athletes who have high testosterone levels firmly back to the track as the Diamond League gets under way in Doha on Friday.
The South African, the double Olympic 800 metres champion, will race in the 1500m in the opening of the IAAF's elite 14-meet competition. It will be her first outing since the rule changes were announced.
Semenya has long come under scrutiny because of her powerful physique and deep voice related to hyperandrogenism, the medical condition which causes a person to produce high levels of male sex hormones.
The new rules introduced by track and field's governing body and which come into effect on November 1, 2018, will allow such athletes to compete only if they take medication to reduce naturally occurring levels of testosterone.
The rules, which the IAAF puts under the heading "Difference of Sexual Development" (DSD), cover races from 400m to the mile, including 400m, hurdles races, 800m, 1500m, one-mile races and combined events over the same distances.
Semenya hits the Diamond League in top form, having most recently claimed the 800m-1500m double at the Commonwealth Games. "God made me the way I am and I accept myself. I am who I am and I am proud of myself," the defiant South African tweeted Tuesday.
That tweet followed two more by the 27-year-old stating: "Opinions aren't facts. Stop worrying about what people think about you" and "Not everyone deserves to know the real you. Let them criticise who they think you are."
Either way, Semenya's trademark last-lap burst to the front of the pack will be fully tested at the Qatar Sports Club by a field including five Kenyans and four Ethiopians sure to seek to hamper the South African with team tactics.
Mutaz Barshim will wave the flag for local athletes, the high jumper and Doha native kicking off his outdoor 2018 campaign on the back of his most successful season ever. Last year, he was crowned world champion, Diamond League champion, IAAF World Athlete of the Year and became the first high jumper since 2004 to be undefeated for a whole season.
"Last year was extraordinary for me. I didn't lose anything -- it was the perfect season," said Barshim, who has set his sights firmly on victory at a home World Championships in 2019, Olympic gold in 2020 and the long-standing world record of 2.45m set by Cuba's Javier Sotomayor in 1993.
"I always try to find things that I haven't achieved yet and make them my target, and this is how I always find new motivation. I want to achieve as much as possible." With temperatures forecast to be hovering around 32 degrees Celsius (90F) come Friday evening, a top-notch field has gathered in the Qatari capital with a guaranteed balmy start to the outdoor season for many.
Reigning Olympic champion Elaine Thompson of Jamaica will go head to head with current 200m world champion and Olympic silver medallist Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands in an extremely strong line-up for the women's 100m.
Also running will be 2017 world silver medallist in the 100m and 200m, Marie-Josee Ta Lou of the Ivory Coast, and her teammate Murielle Ahoure, who won gold over 60m at the world indoors in Birmingham.
The men's 200m sees reigning world champion Ramil Guliyev of Turkey go up against Olympic silver medallist Andre De Grasse of Canada, 2017 Diamond League champion Noah Lyles of the USA and world bronze medallist Jereem Richards of Trinidad and Tobago.