Caster Semenya makes SA sporting history

08 August 2018 - 11:27
By David Isaacson
Gold medalist Caster Semenya of South Africa on the podium during the 2018 Commonwealth Games at Carrara Stadium, Gold Coast, Australia on April 13, 2018.
Image: REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha Gold medalist Caster Semenya of South Africa on the podium during the 2018 Commonwealth Games at Carrara Stadium, Gold Coast, Australia on April 13, 2018.

Caster Semenya’s golden upgrades for the 2012 London Olympics and 2011 world championships have scored her two unique spots in South African sports history.

Semenya‚ the 2016 Rio Games 800m champion‚ had finished second in the 800m behind Maria Savinova at the 2011 championships in Daegu‚ South Korea‚ and the Olympics the following year.

But after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland recently dismissed the Russian’s appeal against her disqualification for doping‚ the middle-distance star has officially been awarded the gold medals.

That means Semenya becomes the first South African to win golds at two consecutive Olympics‚ and she nudges Wayde van Niekerk off the mantle as South Africa’s first reigning world champion to win an Olympic title.

Until Semenya‚ no South African had won consecutive Olympic golds.

In Rio‚ Cameron van der Burgh‚ Chad Le Clos and rowers James Thompson and John Smith all failed to win second gold medals.

Van der Burgh was pushed down one notch to silver in the 100m breaststroke and Le Clos‚ although winning two silvers to become SA’s most decorated Olympian with four career gongs‚ ended fourth in the 200m butterfly event he had won four years earlier.

Thompson and Smith‚ members of the golden lightweight men’s four in London‚ were fourth in the lightweight double sculls in Rio.

Before that‚ the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay team went from champions at Athens 2004 to seventh spot at Beijing 2008.

Penny Heyns went from two Olympic breaststroke golds at Atlanta 1996 to a single bronze medal at Sydney 2000‚ while marathon star Josia Thugwane‚ SA’s other champion in 1996‚ slipped to 20th in Australia.

Prior to isolation‚ many of SA’s Olympic champions didn’t return to the next Games.

One of those who did‚ the singles and doubles tennis champion from Stockholm 1912‚ Charles Winslow‚ had to settle for the singles bronze at Antwerp 1920 after an eight-year hiatus because of World War I.

Until the CAS decision late last month‚ Van Niekerk had been the first — and only — South African sportsperson to have triumphed at an Olympics as a reigning world champion.

He’d won the 400m at the world champs in Beijing in 2015‚ and then took the Rio Olympic gold in a world record the following year.

But Semenya’s upgrades means she was the 2011 world champion when she won the Olympic gold in 2012.

Swimmer Le Clos and high-jumpers Hestrie Cloete and Jacques Freitag are the only other South Africans who went to Games as reigning world champions.

Le Clos (2015-2016) and Cloete (2003-2004) had to settle for Olympic silvers‚ while Freitag‚ struggling with injury‚ failed to advance to the final in 2004.

The court room might not be the ideal way to win gold medals‚ but Semenya will have a chance to repeat both feats on the track at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and the 2019 world champs in Doha.