South African middle distance runner Caster Semenya first burst into the limelight at the 2009 world athletics championships. She won the gold medal with relative ease, finishing almost twenty metres ahead of the rest of the field. And she made it look easy. At the time Semenya was only 18. There were some concerns from fellow athletes and many fans due to the fact that Semenya seemed to have a genetic advantage. Semenya immediately fell under gender scrutiny. Reports of her elevated testosterone levels were leaked as were the aggrieved charges of fellow runners. Is she a man or a woman, race officials and the public wondered. In a bid to assuage the public the IAAF, began a series of gender tests.
The test results were leaked to the media a week after the 2009 world championships. They showed Semenya is actually intersex, meaning she has both male and female characteristics. Newspaper reports said she has internal testicles and lacks ovaries or a uterus. Most importantly, it was reported that Semenya’s testosterone levels with three times higher than those of a normal woman.
The IAAF ruled that Semenya and other athletes with similar conditions must take other hormones as balance. Since when, she slipped down the rankings. Semenya took Olympic silver in 2012 but, while she remained a fine athlete, she was no longer exceptional. Other athletes required to undeRgo such treatment included Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi who is also a an 800m runner.
Then, in July 2015, an Indian sprinter, Dutee Chand, won a case at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Chand also has naturally-occurring high testosterone, but her lawyers argued it was discrimination to not allow her to make the most of genetic advantages.
The IAAF were charged with proving that Chand’s hormones made her closer to a male competitor than female, and they could not. The CAS has now suspended the rule that requires intersex athletes to take hormonal treatments.
Since the rule was suspended, Semenya has been on a tear, regaining the form that saw her destroy the field at the 2009 world championships. At the South African championships she won the 400m, 800m and the 1500m which is unprecedented. Her time in the 400m was 50.74 which was the fastest in the world at the time and almost a second faster than the Kenya record that is held by Ruth Waithera (51.56).
However it is the women’s 800, that Semenya is set to dominate again. At the Rabat Grand Prix, Semenya won easily in 1:56.85. Francine Niyonsaba had stepped aside from the track for the last two years has also made a return thanks to the court ruling.
Both Semenya and Niyonsaba who is also a hyperandrogenic athlete finished 15 metres ahead of the rest of the field. Eunice Sum was well beaten in fourth position. Semenya won the race rather easily and looks like she could have run in the 1:53 range if she tried. The world record of 1:53.28 that was set by Czech legend Jarmila Kratochilova in 1983 appears to be within Semenya’s reach.
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