CAPE TOWN – Becoming a global athletics and sporting icon was never about winning for Caster Semenya, but rather about doing what she loves.
Semenya has been nominated for the Laureus Sportswoman of the Year, along with superstars such as Serena Williams, Katie Ledecky, Allyson Felix, Mikaela Shiffrin and Garbine Muguruza.
The Laureus World Sports Awards take place in Monaco on February 27, and in a wide-ranging interview with Laureus, Semenya spoke about her stellar career so far, and what she hopes to achieve in the coming years.
But while the accolades have been coming in regularly due to her record-breaking runs in the 800 metres, Semenya takes great joy in just competing out on the track.
She won 800m gold and a bronze in the 1 500m at last year’s world championships in London, but being an athlete serves a bigger purpose for the 27-year-old.
“I think for me it was never about winning. It was about enjoying what I do, and then obviously winning comes along and then getting faster also comes along,” Semenya said.
“But for me, it’s just all about being on the track, being free, being what I love. I feel free when I run.
“I think I was just doing it for the love of sport, nothing else. But obviously when you see that you can win, and then you start working very hard so you can maintain the winning streaks and all those medals, everything, the accolades, the awards and everything.”
Semenya doesn’t only strive for individual success, but has set up a foundation and is fully aware of the impact she can make in under-privileged communities as a role model.
That is a big part of what Laureus stands for, and the middle-distance star tries to get involved with the organisation whenever time allows.
“I love their work. I love to get involved as much as I can. I’ve already established my foundation. I would be focused on improving sports facilities, abundant ones, and then trying to get achievement in sport in terms of development.
“So, getting involved with them, I hope they will notice me or take me and adapt me as one of their own,” she said.
“It really helps a lot, especially for the kids that are coming to the rural areas where they don’t have any facilities. They don’t have sport equipment. They don’t have running shoes, they don’t have soccer boots. They don’t have clothing and stuff like that. It touches me to see all that they do.”
While Semenya already has her eye on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics – “it will be probably my last Olympics, 800 metres, I don’t know” – her immediately priority is to get ready for the Commonwealth Games in April.
“I’ll start with Nationals, middle of March, and then obviously we will have the Commonwealth Games, where I will also try the double again, so I can win two golds. That is the main goal. And then we still have African Champs and the World Cup.”
But the glitz and the glam of Monaco awaits in a few weeks’ time, and Semenya is thrilled to be part of sport’s “Oscars”.
“What I can say, it’s a dream come true. You know, as an athlete, obviously we have goals, we have dreams, but this is one of the dreams that I dreamed, you know, from young, watching sportsmen and sportswomen on top of the world, being nominated, and then say one day, if I can be there, I will be fulfilled,” she said.
“It’s very special to be selected amongst the best in the world. So you know, when you check the likes of Michael Johnson, for me, it’s a very special feeling. It’s someone that I looked up to since I’m watching what he has accomplished. It’s just amazing.
“Those (the nominees in her category) are great sportswomen. Great in what they do. I respect their work. I follow their work. They are phenomenal. They are strong. What I can say, I have one word for them: They are fantastic.
“I feel blessed, privileged to be amongst a list of great women like that. So what I can say is may they keep working hard and God bless them. Being nominated with the best, I feel like I am a winner already.”