Caster Semenya has bucked the controversy over her gender and has now targeted a successful Diamond League campaign in the run-up to the bid to defend her world women’s 800m title in August.
The 20-year-old stormed to victory in the 2009 World Athletics Championships but was cast into limbo soon after because of allegations over her true gender.
The South African was said to be a hermaphrodite after the leaking of test results following her 800m win in Berlin.
The incident generated anger from the South African public and government, who rallied behind the athlete, and sparked a major gender review by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), which in April introduced new eligibility rules for women athletes with excessive male hormones, a medical condition known as hyperandrogenism.
Semenya was cleared to compete as a woman in July 2010, nearly a year after she shot to prominence.
“It wasn’t easy to come back after the IAAF ban, but this was the goal,” Semenya admitted ahead of Thursday’s Bislett Games in Oslo, the fifth of the 14-leg IAAF Diamond League series.
The race on Thursday will be Semenya’s third of the season: she won an IAAF Challenge event in Dakar and then finished second at the Diamond League race in Eugene, Oregon, on Saturday.
“The first 150m were too slow, and I made some other minor mistakes,” she said of her Eugene outing, undertaken despite a 34-hour trip to the United States from her homeland.
One eye on the World Championships
Semenya, however, managed to dip under the 1:59 mark Stateside, which made her second fastest in the world this year.
And she seems to be slowly getting back on track to the amazing form she displayed in 2009, when she clocked a jaw-dropping personal best of 1:55,45 when she won the world gold.
“In Oslo, I want to remain below 1:58, maybe 1:57, but everything happens with an eye on the World Championships in South Korea.”
She will face a tough outing at Bislett, including former world champion and Olympic silver medallist Janeth Jepkosgei of Kenya, world indoor and European outdoor champion Mariya Savinova of Russia and Britain’s Jenny Meadows, who won world championship bronze behind Semenya and Jepkosgei in 2009.
“At the Bislett Games, the time is very important, probably more important than first place,” said Semenya, now studying at Pretoria University.
“You may eventually win with a slow time. That’s not my goal. I want to run fast.”
Back on the podium
While admitting that she will have to work on her endurance ahead of the August 27 to September 4 worlds in Daegu, South Korea, and the 2012 London Olympics, Semenya acknowledged that defending the world title was on her radar.
“Defending a world title is not easy,” she said. “The 800m is a bit tricky. It can be a fast race or a slow one, and it depends on how strong you are mentally.
“Personally, I think I have a chance to defend my title but somebody else will want to win. Everybody in the final can get first place.
“I’ll be happy if I get back on the podium, it doesn’t matter if it’s silver or bronze, as long as I’m back there.” — AFP