“SHE never seemed shattered; to me, she was a breathtaking mosaic of the battles she’s won,” reads an inspirational quote, one among many, on Caster Semenya’s Twitter account.
She must have borrowed that simple, yet beautiful fragment of literature from the Internet, but those 16 words depict the story of her life — a life filled with controversies, thanks to hyperandrogenism.
It is defined as a medical condition characterised by excessive levels of androgens (male sex hormones such as testosterone) in the female body and its associated effects. Hyperandrogenism has sparked many debates in sports, but for Semenya, it is something that threw her into an eternal battlefield.
Since 2009, when Semenya won 800M gold at the Berlin World Championships and subsequently underwent gender testing, she has been subjected to ruthless scrutiny and insensitive treatment by her fellow competitors, media and officials — for no fault of hers.
But the South African says the constant struggles have made her tougher.
“You learn through that… It strengthens you,” she told Doha Stadium Plus after strolling to 800M gold in 1:56.61sec at the Doha Diamond League meeting last week. “For me, the past is past. I focus on future. Whatever happened to me made me realise how important I’m to God. So I live for a purpose and that’s the reason why I’m here. I just carry on being a living testimony.”
The season’s first Diamond League meeting had the added attraction of Genzebe Dibaba, the world-record holder in 1,500M, trying to prove herself in the shorter version, but Semenya hardly broke a sweat.
Rio Games bronze medallist Margaret Wambui came second in 1:57.03 while Dibaba ended up fifth in 1:59.37.
“She’s a great runner, I’ve much respect for her,” said Semenya about her Ethiopian opponent, who could prove to be a worthy rival to the Olympic champion.
“It’s just fantastic running with an opponent like her. The tactics here are different from 1,500. But I’ve huge respect for her and I’m looking forward to running with her in future,” said Semenya.
Semenya’s personal best is exactly two seconds slower than the then-Czechoslovakian Jarmila Kratochvilova’s mark of 1:53.28sec, set way back in July, 1983, which is the oldest-standing world record in athletics. But, the 26-year-old has always given the impression that she has plenty in store and a rivalry with Dibaba could encourage her to challenge for the record.
“Maybe, in future. I think anything is possible,” said Semenya, about the world record. “If she (Kratochvilova) was able to break it, why can’t we do it? For us, it’s just about being positive, so we can try to attempt that record.”
Right now, she is happy with her performance in Doha and how she is shaping up for the London World Championships in August.
“I’m satisfied. To be honest, I’m amazed at my performance as I was not expecting such a fast time,” she said. “Doha has warm weather and it works to my advantage. My muscles react quickly, in this weather, so for me it’s just fantastic.”
Another reason for her happiness came in February when her 800M silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics was retrospectively upgraded to gold after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) disqualified the winner, Russian Mariya Savinova-Farnosova, for doping.
Semenya, who already has two Olympic and World Championships gold medals, looks poised for more.
But we might not have seen the end of the story yet as the IAAF’s ruling that women with hyperandrogenism must take testosterone blockers, which the CAS suspended for two years in 2015, may come to the table again.
That could be another insult to Semenya. But then again, it is nothing new to her.