Family, coaches and South African officials came to the defence of world 800-m champion Caster Semenya, saying talent and hard training were behind the success of the teenage runner who has been ordered to take a gender test.
The 18-year-old Semenya dominated her rivals to win the 800m by a big margin on Wednesday despite revelations that surfaced earlier in the day that she was undergoing a gender test because of concerns she does not meet the requirements to compete as a woman.
“She said to me she doesn't see what the big deal is all about,” South Africa team manager Phiwe Mlangeni-Tsholetsane said on Thursday. “She believes it is God given talent and she will exercise it.”
Mlangeni-Tsholetsane said Semenya was thrilled after winning her first world title.
“She was over the moon,” Mlangeni-Tsholetsane said.
“She is my little girl,” her father, Jacob, told the Sowetan newspaper. “I raised her and I have never doubted her gender. She is a woman and I can repeat that a million times.”
About three weeks ago, the IAAF asked the South African athletics federation to conduct the gender test after Semenya burst onto the scene by posting a world leading time of 1minute, 56.72sec at the African junior championships in Bambous, Mauritius.
The teenager’s stunning improvement in times, along with her muscular build and deep voice, sparked speculation about her gender.
Semenya did not attend the medal winners’ news conference after winning Wednesday night’s race by a margin of more than two seconds in 1:55.45. She was replaced by IAAF general secretary Pierre Weiss.
Weiss said the testing was ordered because of “ambiguity, not because we believe she is cheating.” If the tests show that Semenya is not a woman, she would be stripped of her medal.
“But today there is no proof,” Weiss said. The verification test, which takes weeks to complete, requires a physical medical evaluation, and includes reports from a gynecologist, endocrinologist, psychologist, an internal medicine specialist and an expert on gender.
Gideon Sam, the president of South Africa’s Olympic governing body, expressed dismay about the controversy.
“We condemn the way she was linked with such media speculation and allegation, especially on a day she ran in the final of her first major world event,” Sam said. “It’s the biggest day of her life.”
It’s not the first gender controversy in track and field history. In 2006, the Asian Games 800 champion, Santhi Soundarajan of India, was stripped of her medal after failing a gender test.