Caster Semenya, the women’s 800m world champion battling back from a sex-test controversy, will be central to South Africa’s medal hopes at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.
The 19-year-old was added to the South Africa squad in August, one month after the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ended a controversial probe into her gender that saw her side-lined for almost 11 months.
Semenya has impressed since her return, improving steadily over the course of several warm-up competitions leading up to the games.
She broke the 1:59 mark in the women’s 800m event on September 7 in Milan, her final race before the October games.
Michael Seme, Semenya’s coach, believes Milan was only a step in the right direction, and that faster times are on the horizon.
“She was not totally trained” after her lengthy hiatus, said Seme.. “We were starting from zero.”
According to Seme, Semenya’s primary focus in the weeks leading up to Delhi has been returning to full fitness, which meant competing in multiple events to build strength and endurance.
“We are trying to make those legs as fast as possible,” he said.
Expectations are high for the world champion. South Africa traditionally excels at track and field, which puts added pressure on runners like Semenya to bring home medals.
“We are focussed on working hard to improve her times and we are confident that we will bring back the gold medal from India,” her manager, Tshepo Seema, said in a statement.
“For team Caster, it is an opportunity to announce her return and to demonstrate our dominace of the world 800m for women,” he added.
Semenya shot to fame when she lowered her personal best in the 800m more than four seconds at the 2009 African Junior Championships.
But the victory raised questions about her muscular physique and deep voice, stoking speculation about her gender.
Scandal erupted weeks later after she dominated the field and cruised to gold at the World Championships in Berlin.
Following the event, the IAAF banned Semenya from competition and required her to submit to sex testing, igniting a political and popular uproar in South Africa.
Almost a year later, the runner was reinstated following exhaustive negotiations between medical teams of the IAAF and her own team, which were presided over by a mediator.
Terms of the agreement have remained confidential. – AFP