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Semenya: My plan is to win

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Caster Semenya says Nelson Mandela offered her comfort.

 London - In the eighth lane of the first heat to qualify for the 800m on Wednesday, runner number 2794 will step forward when her name is called by the stadium announcer.

At 12.35pm, almost three years after her sex was questioned and she was subjected to global public humiliation and suspicion, Caster Semenya will become an Olympian.

On August 19, 2009, she took gold in the world championships in Berlin and then retreated into the shadows, forced there by the International Association of Athletics Federations' clumsiness, which had been exacerbated by the lies and pigheadedness of Athletics SA president Leonard Chuene.

It was almost another year before Semenya was allowed to return to competition after her sex tests. Today, she says, those days are behind her. Today, just like Oscar Pistorius, she is a runner. That plain. That simple.

Her plan for these Games is equally simple.

“My plan is to win the Olympics. It’s a very simple plan – to win my first Olympic final in a world record time,” she told the Telegraph shortly before the Games.

It is expected that people at the Olympic Stadium will warm to her as they did to her countryman, Pistorius, when he competed earlier this week.

Semenya’s first goal will be to qualify for tomorrow night’s semi-finals (8.30pm SA time) and then for the final on Saturday night (9pm SA time).

Her form has been strange this season, although a photographer who has been at many of her races this year believes that she may be pulling a fast one. Semenya, he thinks, is playing rope-a-dope.

“I have had a rough season this year. I had to change coaches,” said Semenya, who now has Maria Mutola, the Mozambican 800m Olympic champion, in her corner.

“I’m not upset with my performance. I know where I’m coming from. I’m not going to worry about those times. What one worries about is how you handle the championship. I’m okay.”

The 21-year-old has a nose for the big races. She won gold in Berlin in 2009 when she was the favourite. At the world championships in Daegu, South Korea, last year, she went in with uncertain form and took the silver medal.

She did her job, she said.

Semenya has walked on the Olympic Stadium track once before at these Games, as the flag bearer for SA.

“I wasn’t expecting to carry the flag ahead of the team at the stadium.

“It’s very exciting. When I look back at my career I didn’t know if I was going to make the Olympics and I’m excited to be here.”

Semenya will be running for Nelson Mandela, the father of a nation who offered her comfort when she needed it, when others were seeking to make political capital from her and robbing the young woman of her dignity. “Everything I do, I do it for him. He made me believe in the dark days after my victory. He inspired me a lot and he continues to do so.”

Click here to check SA’s Olympic schedule


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