Caster Semenya with her silver medal at the womens 800m victory ceremony at the Olympic Games in London. Picture: Reuters

Kevin McCallum and SAPA


CASTER Semenya has earned herself a place in South African athletics history. She is the first black South African woman to win a medal at the Olympics.

Semenya won a silver medal in the Olympic Games 800m final on Saturday night with a late surge to overtake all but one of her competitors. That is no small accomplishment for a 21-year-old who was humiliated and treated disgracefully by those who were supposed to have her best interests at heart.

On Saturday night, as she stood on the podium to receive her silver medal, Semenya began to grow and to believe. She smiled and giggled and looked up instead of down. You saw a young girl become a woman.

The London crowd loved her.

Semenya says she will put all her efforts, over the next four years, into winning gold at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

She won SA’s sixth medal at the London Games, finishing second behind Russia’s Mariya Savinova.

“I am happy with a silver medal in my first Olympics,” she said.

“Now, I just have to concentrate to win the next Olympics.

“Four years is not easy, but I’ll just have to go back and concentrate, so that I can do it again.”

She said she was disappointed that she had left her attack too late in the race. She held back until the final 200m with Savinova well ahead of her.

When Semenya kicked, with 70m to go, Savinova already had a sizeable lead and the South African was unable to catch her.

“I knew I had a better kick, but unfortunately, I made a late move, but I am very happy with the silver medal,” she said.

“I tried hard to get back there, but the body wasn’t really on fire and I had to fight until the end.”

“I haven’t had such a good season, compared to the previous two seasons, but we are getting there and I can see I am improving.

“We are getting to the normal shape and 1:57 is a good time.

“It is a season’s best, so I am very happy. I am just looking forward to finishing my season well.”

The Limpopo-born athlete said she initially found it hard to adapt to Maria Mutola’s coaching methods. “I had a rough season training-wise… four weeks before the championships things started to get okay,” she said.

“Changing coaches can maybe affect your performance because the body has to adapt to what you are doing. I am happy I peaked at just the right time.”

Mutola said she was disappointed with Semenya’s race and was confident she could have taken pole position. “We’ve been working on her finish for the past four weeks,” Mutola said.

“Her finish is better than anyone else’s, at the moment, in 800m in the world, I believe.

“I wasn’t surprised when we came here and she ran those times because I knew from training that Caster could do better, even 1:55, this year and she’s in shape to do that.”

Semenya said: “I see a pretty good future for me now.”

“The most important thing is just to train and listen to my coach and, as she said, focus on my career and forget about the past. Now we concentrate on the future.

“The plan was to win the gold, but I am happy [with the silver] because it is my first Olympics.”

She said she still had a lot to achieve but felt she was following in her mentor’s footsteps.

“It is a really good start and I am still a little bit young and I am growing,” she said. “I just have to train hard and I will achieve more.”

Meanwhile, the London Olympics were given a right royal send-off last night with a magnificent riot of Mods, Madness, Muse and Freddie Mercury. It was a pop concert for the ages, a condensed mix tape that paused for a minute to include 100 members of the Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Choir singing Imagine by John Lennon.

London imagined it could pull off the greatest Games of the modern era, and that dream has come to realisation in the past 16 days.

So, too, has SA’s sixth appearance at the Olympics since the dark days of isolation. The dream of 12 medals may have been one that was too distant and the 2012 Olympics may have come too soon. Team SA had to settle for six medals, but they were six of the best.

The team bade farewell to London with a party, standing in the middle of the Olympic Stadium as one of the greatest shows on Earth finished with one of the greatest shows on Earth. The line-up included the Spice Girls, George Michael and even Kaiser Chiefs, named in honour of former Leeds United and Bafana star Lucas Radebe, an ambassador of Team SA.

A new generation of South Africans is ready to become Olympians. It’s time we gave them the money and support to make it happen. London 2012 should be the start for a new era for the Olympics and South African sport.

See Pages 3 and 21