TOKYO, Japan — Olympic silver medalist Francine Niyonsaba criticized her own team officials and said Saturday she felt “so alone” after she was disqualified for lane infringement and denied a place in the 5,000-meter final at the Tokyo Olympics.
The 800-meter specialist would have provided a compelling story if she had made the medal race in the 5,000.
She was forced to swap events after being barred from running the 800 at the Olympics because of World Athletics' testosterone rules. She managed to qualify in the 5,000 and 10,000, which don't fall under the testosterone regulations.
Niyonsaba, who is from Burundi, then unexpectedly finished among the leaders in her 5,000 heat at the Olympic Stadium on Friday night. She was celebrating a place in the final in a media area at the stadium only to realize she'd been disqualified for stepping across lane markings at the start of the race.
“My dreams of making it to the finals were crushed,” she said in a statement posted on her Twitter account.
Niyonsaba felt the decision was unfair. The lane infringement in the bustle at the start of the race wasn't her fault, she said. She appealed but lost.
She noted the United States 4x400 mixed relay team won an appeal against their disqualification for an illegal baton change in the heats on the same night, and won back their place in the final.
“Where was the Burundian team leader when I needed him by my side?” Niyonsaba said in her statement. “USA challenged the disqualification of their mixed relay team and won it. Why could Burundi not do the same for me? I felt so alone, unsupported.”
Niyonsaba won the silver medal behind Caster Semenya in the 800 at the last Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, an event that stoked conversation and controversy about track and field's testosterone regulations. All three medalists that day, Semenya, Niyonsaba and Margaret Wambui of Kenya, were later barred from the event under new rules because of high levels of natural testosterone.
Niyonsaba switched to the unregulated long distances and qualified for Tokyo against expectations. Semenya failed in her own bid to qualify in the 5,000.
Niyonsaba spoke Friday night of how hard that was.
“I said I wanted to be an inspiration," she said. “To be here means a lot. From the 800 to 5K is not easy but I like challenges."
Niyonsaba wrote in a separate Twitter post that she was looking forward to running in the 10,000 final in Tokyo next Saturday, which has no heats and will be decided in a one-off race for gold.