CAPE TOWN – “God made me the way I am and I accept myself.” Those were the words of Caster Semenya in her first direct response to the controversial new regulations around female classification by the IAAF.
The Olympic, world and Commonwealth 800m champion has maintained a dignified silence throughout this past week after the athletics governing body announced last Thursday that they have changed the conditions under which female athletes competing in the 400m, 400m hurdles, 800m, 1 500m and the mile may participate.
Those female athletes who naturally produce testosterone levels above five nanomoles per litre will be required to take medication to lower it if they want to continue running in the above distances – otherwise they will have to move up to the 5 000m or 10 000m.
But several experts and former athletes feel that the new rules are a direct attack on Semenya, who swept to a double gold in the 800m and 1 500m at the Commonwealth Games in Australia last month.
It even saw a law professor from the University of Pretoria, Steve Cornelius, quit serving the IAAF disciplinary tribunal on Tuesday for what he called “the warped ideology behind the new regulations”.
Up until now Semenya has held her fire, instead opting to post a number of cryptic messages on social media. The latest of those were on Monday, when she wrote: “Opinions aren’t facts. Stop worrying about what people think about you.”
But on Tuesday, while South Africans were celebrating Workers Day, the 27-year-old Semenya said on Twitter: “God made me the way I am and I accept myself. I am who I am and I am proud of myself. Caster Semenya”
The darling of South African sport has received tremendous local support, all the way up to Sports Minister Tokozile Xasa, who has vowed to do everything possible to support Semenya and have the ruling overturned.
But Semenya will be out to make her point yet again where she does her best talking – on the track – and she will get an opportunity to do so as early as Friday night, when she will line up in the 1 500m at the IAAF Diamond League opener in Doha, Qatar.
The race will take place at 6.13pm South African time, and will be broadcast live on SuperSport 7 (channel 207 on DSTV).
Despite setting a new SA record of 4:00.71 in winning the Commonwealth Games gold medal, Semenya will not be the fastest athlete in the field.
There are three athletes who have dipped under the magical four-minute mark – Winny Chebet of Kenya (3:59.16), Besu Sado of Ethiopia (3:59.47) and Gudaf Tseguy (3:59.55), also of Ethiopia – although current Olympic and world champion Faith Kipyegon of Kenya won’t participate in Doha.