Former UP-Tuks student and athlete Caster Semenya (25) won gold in the 800 m with a time of 1:55.28lmin on 20 August 2016. This was her personal best time, but also the fifth fastest time in Olympic history and a new South African record. The middle distance runner bettered her qualifying time of 1:59.3 min by over 4 s. This medal adds to her tally of gold at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, and two silver medals from the 2011 World Championships and the 2012 Olympics respectively. Semenya was the first person to win the 400 m, 800lm and 1 500 m titles at the South African National Championships.
As a former UP athlete, Semenya’s gold hits close to home and is celebrated by TuksAthletics. Hennie Kriel, coach of TuksHigh and Olympic sprinters Clarence Munyai and Gift Leotlela, spoke to Perdeby about her achievement and the impact it has on TuksAthletics: “What a tremendous honour it is for Tuks to have played a part in this story. We [UP] will always cherish Caster’s performances and have fond memories of her,” said Kriel. He went on to elaborate about the impact this has for South African athletics and women athletes in particular. “This achievement will inspire our athletes, and especially our women athletes. It will show them what they can do through application and hard work,” said Kriel.
Semenya’s achievement has breathed into the dreams of onlooking South African athletes. Fellow female athlete and UP hurdler Wenda Nel spoke to Perdeby about the way that Semenya has inspired her and said, “Caster is really one of the most exceptional athletes I know. She is an example of how you should never give up and keep working for your dreams. She has uplifted athletics and South African women. She motivates us and shows us how to keep fighting despite the disappointments we face.”
Semenya has become popular over the years for her talent, but has been surrounded by controversy regarding her status as a female athlete. After the 2009 World Championships it was revealed that Semenya had been subjected to gender testing. She could only compete again in July 2010. Semenya has a medical condition known as hyperandrogenism, which causes high levels of testosterone in women. Her condition led to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF)’s concern that Semenya had an unfair advantage. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in 2015 that there was not enough evidence to prove that testosterone increased female performance, ruling in Semenya’s favour.
The debates about Semenya have been reopened as a result of her gold medal, and the reaction of fellow 800 m athlete Lynsey Sharp who finished sixth in the final and was seen crying after the event. Semenya refuses to be distracted by critics and said, “It’s all about loving one another [in sport]. It’s not about discriminating people, it’s not about looking at people how they look, how they speak or how they run. It’s not about being muscular. It’s all about sports. I think when you walk out of your apartment, you think about performing. You do not think about how your opponent looks like. You just want to do better. So I think the advice to everybody is just go out there and have fun.” South Africa continues to show great support for the athlete on social media. As the curtains closed on the 2016 Olympic Games, South African athletes returned home with two gold medals, six silver medals and two bronze medals. Wayde van Niekerk joined Semenya with a gold medal and new 400lm world record. Two silver medals were scooped up by Chad le Clos after facing Michael Phelps in the highly anticipated 100 m butterfly and 200 m freestyle show-down. UP’s Cameron van der Burgh was able to snatch his silver in the 100 m breaststroke. Track and field athlete Luvo Manyonga did his country and UP proud after placing second in long jump to obtain a silver. The third silver contributed by a UP athlete came from Lawrence Brittan who participated in the men’s coxless rowing event with partner Shaun Keeling. The last South African silver was brought home by women’s javelin Sunette Viljoen, and two bronze medals came from triathlete Henri Shoeman and the rugby sevens team.
Image: Mail and Guardian