Team SA brings home four Worlds medals

South Africa finished 17th on the table after Caster Semenya grabbed the nation’s fourth medal on the final day of the World Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea, on Sunday.

Caster Semenya, who won the 800m at the 2009 world championships in Berlin, finished second on Sunday in her return to the global stage after sitting out nearly an entire year as she was engulfed in a gender controversy.

“I was doing this for him,” Semenya said of Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa following the fall of apartheid. “He is a very good man and gave me good advice.

“I went to see him [after Berlin] and he said just toughen up and face the world. I have to go visit him again now. When I get back home, I will go straight to him.”

South Africa had picked up another silver, courtesy of the 4 x 400m relay team, earlier in the week, as well as two bronzes through 400m hurdler LJ van Zyl and javelin thrower Sunette Viljoen.

Coolboy Ngamole was the best of the South African contingent in the men’s marathon in the morning session on the final day of competition, finishing 46th in a pedestrian time of 2:30.01, more than 22 minutes behind Kenyan Abel Kirui, who defended his title.

Lucky Mohale was 50th, and second last, in 2:38.22, and David Ngakane did not finish the race.

The nation’s 4 x 100m relay team trailed in fifth place in a tough first-round heat in 38.72.

Twenty-year-old Semenya sat back in the pack for the first lap on Sunday at Daegu Stadium but then moved into the lead with about 200m to go. After she made the turn into the home straight, however, Mariya Savinova of Russia took over.

Savinova ended up winning the race, and the gold medal, in 1 minute, 55.87 seconds. Semenya crossed in 1:56.35 and 2007 world champion Janeth Jepkosgei of Kenya finished third in 1:57.42.

“I achieved what I wanted, which was to get back to the podium,” Semenya said. “For now, I now have to work as a professional athlete, stay strong and be positive. It wasn’t easy for me, but I had support from family, friends and my coach.”

After winning the gold in Berlin two years ago, Semenya’s muscular build and dramatic improvement in times led the International Association of Athletics Federations to order gender tests. She was then forced out of competition for 11 months.

During that time, she threatened to take the governing body to court but was then cleared to run without explanation.

‘A magic touch’
Until Sunday, she had not really come close to the 1:55.45 she ran in Berlin. And when she had to push harder to keep her gold medal in the event, she ran out of gas.

“As a normal person, you get tired,” Semenya said. “I wasn’t strong enough to finish fast.”

Semenya celebrated both on the track and on the podium with big smiles, but she again declined to talk about her past troubles. She has been media-shy since the news of her gender tests became public two years ago, repeatedly refusing to give interviews and instead concentrating on her running.

“Normally I don’t talk about the past. I’m still young and I have to focus on the future,” Semenya said. “Every human being has ups and downs, so you cannot always be happy. You have to toughen up, pull up your socks and face the world.”

She did, and she came away with another world championship medal.

“I have,” Semenya said, “a magic touch.” — Sapa, AP

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