When Caster Semenya slowed down and tailed the field during her 800m race on Saturday night, her anxious parents, who were watching from the stands, couldn’t believe it.
“I was so scared that I nearly fainted,” her mother Dorcas said.
As she watched in horror, Semenya’s father stood up.
“He was so nervous and said ‘Oh my word, it seems as if we will go back to South Africa without a medal’,” Dorcas recalled.
“But, all of a sudden, we saw Caster catching up,” a very excited and happy mother said from her London hotel room on Sunday.
“It was very hard for me. I looked at those other girls and wondered whether my child will beat them. Hey, those girls can run. But God was there with her, and when she finished, we got up and made a lot of noise.
“It was such a happy moment as she ran around the stadium with the flag.
“There were other South Africans who were also happy, they came to us. We introduced ourselves and they celebrated with us. We are very proud and happy.”
The sponsored trip was Semenya’s parents’ first trip overseas and the first time they had flown in a plane.
“London is very nice. We don’t eat pap here, but very nice food and whatever else we desire. I was very nervous in the plane, but only for a little while.”
As the race began, Semenya’s supporters sat crammed around a small TV screen outside her Limpopo home.
There were gasps as she started down the home straight, followed by groans as the screen went fuzzy at the crucial moment.
Semenya’s sister Nicolene jumped up to jiggle the wires, and the spectators erupted with cheers when they saw their girl taking a victory lap.
It took a while for the residents of Masetlhong village to realise she had won silver. Then there were shouts, screams, blaring horns and tooting whistles – their Caster had bagged SA’s sixth medal at the London Olympics.
The cold weather didn’t deter scores of residents who waved their placards outside Semenya’s home.
“We are behind you 110%” and “You make us proud” read two of the placards.
A banner made out of cardboard boxes read, “Caster o ya rocka [you rock], show them that you are the best”.
Semenya’s siblings were thrilled by their sister’s performance and commended her for a job well done.
The 2009 world champion slipped into last place at the start of the race.
In the end, while she shot past the other athletes, she could not catch Russia’s Mariya Savinova.
“I think she underestimated that final straight. If she was quick from the beginning, we would be celebrating the gold medal,” said Sello Mokoena, a villager.
“I am just happy she is not coming home empty-handed; silver is good,” said Semenya’s neighbour Shirley Rammabi.
On Sunday, The Star met Mmaphuti Sekgala, the woman behind Semenya’s success story, at the octogenarian’s home in Fairly village, north-west of Polokwane.
Sekgala, 85, is Semenya’s maternal grandmother.
The 800m star has stayed with her grandmother from the age of seven.
“Her first long trip was to Botswana. I paid R60 for transportation. Every time, she came back with medals. This is a talent from God,” said Sekgala. – The Star