Women Of Wonder

Caster Semenya: the athlete who fought for her rights on and off the track

02 August 2020 - 06:00 By Gareth Cotterell
Caster Semenya has fought legal and public battles to be able to run at the highest level in women's competition. File photo.
Caster Semenya has fought legal and public battles to be able to run at the highest level in women's competition. File photo.
Image: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

WHO IS SHE?

Caster Semenya is an Olympic gold medallist and world champion runner.

Her success on the track made South Africans proud, and her fight against discrimination has earned praise around the world. 

CLAIM TO FAME

Semenya came to the world's attention in 2009 when, as a relatively unknown athlete, she blew away her competition to win gold in the 800m race at the World Championships in Berlin, Germany.

However, that world title came with controversy.The athlete was forced to undergo a gender test, with reports claiming the result showed both male and female characteristics, including higher than normal levels of testosterone.

Despite the media attention and claims from some of her rivals that she shouldn't be allowed to compete against them, Semenya always held her head high and continued to excel on the track.

She won another world title in 2011 at Daegu, South Korea, and then finished second at the Olympic Games in London in 2012, but was later awarded the gold medal after Russia's Mariya Savinova was banned for doping.

Semenya reclaimed those titles at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and the 2017 World Championships in London.

INSPIRATION

Born in Polokwane, Limpopo, Semenya came from humble beginnings.

Though she didn't have access to high-end facilities like most of her rivals, Semenya had obvious raw talent. She was always tipped to win a medal when she walked on to the athletics track. 

Her many medals won in international competitions prove her ability as a runner, but her battles with administrators, particularly her sport's governing body, the IAAF, have shown she is blessed with a strong character and courage.

Since her first title in 2009, Semenya has been fighting legal and public battles to be able to run at the highest level in women's competition.

In 2019, Semenya lost her legal case against the IAAF, meaning she would have to take medication to reduce her testosterone if she wanted to run in races between 400m and a mile. The court ruling came despite the Court of Arbitration for Sport saying the IAAF’s policy was “discriminatory” to athletes with differences in sexual development. 

To get around the ban, Semenya announced she would compete in the 200m at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. 

IN CASE YOU DIDN'T KNOW

Semenya was a keen soccer player before she turned her focus to athletics. In 2019, she joined the club JVW FC, founded by Banyana Banyana captain Janine van Wyk. The club competes in the SA Football Association Sasol League.