DAEGU, South Korea -- Defending champion Caster Semenya easily qualified for the semifinals in the 800 meters at the world championships Thursday.
Semenya had been struggling through much of the year and was drawn in a heat alongside Mariya Savinova of Russia, who has the season's top time. Still, the 20-year-old South African led through much of the finishing straight and eased up to allow Savinova victory as both clocked 2 minutes, 1.01 seconds.
"I'm not under pressure," Semenya said. "I want to go back and focus on the semifinals."
Semenya won the 800 as a little-known teenager in Berlin two years ago but was immediately engulfed in a gender controversy. She was forced out of competition for 11 months following gender tests before being cleared to compete again. She then missed the 2010 Commonwealth Games with a back injury.
Janeth Jepkosgei Busienei of Kenya, the 2007 world champion, had the top time of 1:59.36 in Thursday's heats.
The semifinals of the women's 800 will be held Friday with the final set for Sunday, the last day of competition.