JOHN HUNTER

On August 19, South African and Tuks athlete Caster Semenya, won our country’s first medal of the 2009 World Championships in Berlin. The 800m runner held off a strong challenge from Janeth Jepkosgei, from Kenya, to take gold in a time of 1 minute, 55.45 seconds. Sadly, Semenya’s performance has been overshadowed by a gender controversy as her muscular build and manly features have prompted questions over whether she shouldn’t rather have been running with the men. Following these claims, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) asked Athletics South Africa (ASA) to carry out a gender verification test on the athlete. Doctors in South Africa had already begun testing on Semenya before the World Championships but because of the complexity of the process, the results will not be available for some time. She was cleared to run in the meantime. The questions over her gender were dismissed by the ASA but they must await the results of the gender test as it does not simply concern external genital appearance.

The girl from Limpopo has been compared with the legendary South African runner, Zola Budd. Eric Modiba, the principal from the high school she attended, says that she was always rough and played with the boys. He added that she liked soccer and always wore pants, never a skirt. Semenya’s coach, Michael Seme, says that he understands that people will ask questions because of her physique.

Semenya showed great perseverance throughout the championships after sustaining an injury in the first heat. The then  world champion, Janeth Jepkosgei, had a fall towards the last 100m of the first round race and Semenya had to react quickly to hurdle over her. In doing so, Semenya cut her own ankle with her spikes. Despite this causing the Tuks athlete to slip down to fifth place, she regained her composure and managed to win the race.

The semi-final went much more according to plan for Semenya, who took the lead after one lap and never relinquished it. The 18-year-old adopted similar tactics to win the final, showing great composure for such an inexperienced competitor. The other medal hopeful for Tuks and South Africa, LJ van Zyl, failed to make it to the final of the 400m hurdles after a disappointing run in the semi-final.

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