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Much has been said about Caster, but her talent is indisputable

We shouldn't romanticise Caster Semenya's strength in the face of the indignities she's had to tolerate throughout her career, but she should be an inspiration to us all
Thu, Mar 04, 2021

Caster Semenya at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. PHOTO: Roger Sedres/Gallo Images

From the moment a teenage Caster Semenya started participating in international events, she has had to tolerate public scrutiny about her eligibility, and it is now 10 years since she first took medication after the first ruling in 2011 by World Athletics and she continues to be embattled.

Semenya dominated the Olympic stage by setting personal best records. Little did the two-time 800 metres gold medallist know that she was setting herself up for insufferable probes surrounding her sex.

The Cobra is an intersex cisgender woman, assigned female at birth. In other words, she is legally female, was from birth raised as female and identifies as a female – this has never been restricted information.

Following her victory at the 2009 World Championships, it was announced that she had to go under sex testing. She was then withdrawn from international competition until 6 July 2010 when the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) cleared her to return.

Again, in 2019, a new IAAF ruling prevented women such as Semenya from participating in 400m, 800m and 1500m events unless they took medication to lower their testosterone levels.

Semenya didn't budge and this resulted in her not defending her 800m title at the World Championships in Doha in 2020. According to her lawyer, Semenya has now taken the case to the European Court of Human Rights to challenge the rule.

All Semenya wants is to clear her path so that she can continue to compete at high-level track events which she has been unfairly barred from.

If anything, the focus should be on what makes the world champion an outstanding runner. Semenya is a natural-born runner. The breaking of personal best records didn't happen by luck, but by her skill and ability to compete among the best and still come out on top, because that's who she is and what she was born for.

Her ability to be strategic and apply intelligence during her races always leaves many tongues wagging. She knows how to keep athletic fans on the edge of the seats with her unmatched illustrious speed.

Semenya is a hard worker – driven, determined, disciplined, and above all, a professional. She respects her craft and running is what she's best at. That's where her heart is and wants to be.

It's deeply disheartening that someone can be forced to surrender to obtuse and arbitrary rules that seem specifically targeted at her.

The constant battles have seen Semenya prepare for life outside the running tracks as she started training with Gauteng-based JVW FC, a women's football club owned by Banyana Banyana captain Janine van Wyk. This is great, but it's not who she is and wants to be.

Semenya's resilience, strength and courage to confront all the trials and tribulations she's faced is admirable. What she's been put through requires supreme mental strength. Irrespective of her challenges, Semenya just adjusts her crown and takes it in stride.

Semenya continues her great work off the track as well. In her public appearances she uses her challenges as a tool to inspire others to draw from her strength, and uses her social media accounts to spread positive energy by constantly sharing motivational quotes.

The fact that we must sing her praises for enduring discrimination, indignity, suffering and humiliation is rather low. The fact her raw talent has resulted in her being discriminated against is unconscionable.

May the magnitude of Semenya's unrivalled strength and the bravery to face life challenges inspire those who need it the most.

Her continued fight against restrictions of testosterone in female athletes has certainly proven that this fight is not only for her but fellow athletes as well. May sense prevail one day, so Semenya can continue to do what she was born for.

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