CAPE TOWN - “My organs may be different and I may have a deep voice, but I am a woman.” That was the strong message from Caster Semenya to World Athletics as she continues her fight to be cleared to run in her favourite race distances once more.
The two-time Olympic 800m champion is likely to miss the Tokyo Games this year due to the governing body’s rules regarding female athletes who compete in events from 400m to the mile who have differences in sexual development (DSD), which causes them to have high testosterone levels.
Semenya has fought hard, even taking her matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and she has yet to be successful to have the rules set aside. Possibly her last chance is now at the European Court for Human Rights.
In an interview with The Guardian newspaper in the UK recently, Semenya cited the examples of swimmer Michael Phelps, basketball star LeBron James and supreme sprinter Usain Bolt, who all have unique physical characteristics that helped them become the best in their respective sports.
“I trained like a slave to be the greatest. I’ve watched Usain Bolt train. His training was insane, and I am the same. My high testosterone levels are something I was born with, it’s a disorder. It doesn’t make me the best, though. That’s where the training and knowledge comes in,” Semenya said.
“Michael Phelps’ arms are wide enough for him to do whatever he wants. Swimmers’ lungs are different to other people’s. Basketball players like LeBron James are tall. If all the tall players are banned from playing, will basketball be the same? Usain has amazing muscle fibres. Are they going to stop him, too? My organs may be different and I may have a deep voice, but I am a woman.”
The 30-year-old middle-distance star has now moved to the long-distance 5 000m to try and carve out a new space in athletics. She won the SA title a few weeks ago in 15 minutes, 52.28 seconds (15:52.28), which was some way short of the Olympic qualifying time of 15:10.00.
Semenya does still have an opportunity to reach that mark and make it to Tokyo, but she is unlikely to be a contender for a medal, with the top three times of 2020 all under the 14:27.00 mark – including the world record of 14:06.62 by Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey.
At the moment, to run in her preferred 800m race, Semenya would have to take medication or undergo surgery to lower her naturally occurring testosterone levels to below five nanomoles per litre of blood (5nmol/L).
“It’s taking the soul out of my body. They want me to take my own system down. I’m not sick. I don’t need drugs. I will never do that,” she said.
👉Just a reminder!! I am mokgadi caster semenya, I just wanted to say that.👈![CDATA]>🐍— Caster Semenya (@caster800m) April 15, 2021
On World Athletics president Sebastian Coe, Semenya added: “The message is very simple. As a man, he should look into his (former) wife’s eyes and say to her: ‘I gave you kids. If someone was treating our kids in this way, what would be your reaction?’ He needs to think as a human, not as the president of an organisation.
“I have accomplished my goals. Sure, I’m an Olympic champion. I’m a world champion, and I’ve won major titles. So, at the moment, we are trying to set things right for future generations because they are killing 800m women.
“They are killing sport. People want to see extraordinary performances, and if I am a leader, I would give people what they want. Now Seb Coe is making it all about him.
“He has to act in the interest of all athletes, but now he wants to categorise us. He is seeing a young athlete, one the organisation has tried to stop, and has made it political. Just accept and enjoy it. His job is to fight corruption.”