Long and strange trip for Semenya

Caster Semenya acknowledges crowd after 800 heat.
Caster Semenya acknowledges crowd after 800 heat. (STREETER LECKA / GETTY IMAGES)
Posted: August 09, 2012

HOW MUCH humiliation and shame did Caster Semenya endure?

As she took to the track at the Olympic Stadium on Wednesday for her heat in the women's 800 meters, could anyone blame Semenya if she felt her fight to compete in the 2012 London Games was the most degrading of all Olympians?

It unquestionably was.

The 800-meter runner from South Africa knew she was a woman, always had been a woman.

But suddenly, after she won the 2009 African Junior Championships in the 800, here was the International Association of Athletics Federations telling Semenya that she had to prove she was a woman by undergoing a gender test.

Yes, Semenya's times had improved dramatically in a short span, which sometimes indicates the use of performance enhancing drugs

The IAAF said it was "obligated to investigate," but instead of just drug testing, it asked Semenya to take a gender test.

It should have been kept secret, but within 3 hours the news broke.

"There was a leak of confidentiality at some point and this led to some insensitive reactions," IAAF president Lamine Diack said.

No kidding.

When Semenya won gold in the 800 at the 2009 World Championships, it came as no surprise that more questions about her gender were raised.

After all, the IAAF's breach of confidentiality had already let the story get out.

Of course, it blamed the media instead of taking responsibility for its carelessness around such a sensitive issue.

Semenya had support from other athletes, including retired Olympic champion Michael Johnson.

South African civic leaders, politicians and activists called the IAAF's decision to ask for gender testing racist.

Who set the standards for such a request to be made?

Semenya did not have male genitals.

There was no DNA evidence at the time.

What was the initial criteria used to decide that Semenya looked so different that the IAAF had to test to see if she met its requirements for being considered a woman?

There was great debate about Semenya's legal rights to privacy and dignity.

Caught in the middle was an 18-year-old girl who only wanted to compete.

"God made me the way I am and I accept myself," Semenya told the South African magazine You.

What else could she do but concede to the test?

Although she was allowed to retain her world title and the prize money won, Semenya was not allowed to compete for 11 months while the IAAF waited to release its findings.

On July 6, 2010, nearly 11 months after her world title, the IAAF cleared Semenya to return to international competition, but the results of her gender test were not released due to privacy reasons.

On July 27, Semenya carried the South African flag during the March of Nations at the Opening Ceremony of the London Games.

She hardly smiled.

Semenya finished second in her heat on Wednesday. She was described as guarded and reserved in her postrace commentary. She would only talk about the competition.

She has her semifinal race Thursday.

She's a legitimate medal contender for Saturday's final. She wants to win gold for the people of South Africa who supported her.

Officially, her presence in London means things have been resolved.

Practically, because of what Semenya had to go through, that will never be fully possible.

"She's just like any other competitor," said Jessica Smith of Canada, likely believing she was showing support for Semenya. "The faster she runs, the faster we have to compete with her.

"I have confidence in what the IAAF has done to ensure that she's competing at the right level. I trust in what they're doing, and hopefully she's just like any of us."


It doesn't matter that Semenya already went through a cruel and humiliating process to prove that she is.

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