Caster Semenya is an athlete competing in track and field at the 2012 London Summer Olympics for South Africa. She is making her debut at the Games where she figures to contend for gold in the women's 800m. Semenya burst onto the international scene in 2009, winning gold at the World Championships in Berlin, where her gender status came into global public question.

In October of 2011, Semenya cut ties with her previous coach, Michael Seme, and announced that she had turned to Maria Mutola, the 2000 Olympic 800m gold medalist from Mozambique, to be her coach in the lead-up to the Olympic Games. "Maria has been my idol since I started to run," Semenya said. "After Daegu I asked Maria if she was interested in coaching me. Her answer was positive and I am very happy now. Maria has had a long and super successful career. She will be a great teacher for me."

As she prepared to defend her world title in the 800m in Daegu, Semenya spread her wings across three distances in 2011 and showed impressive range. At the South African National Championships, she won the 800m in 2:02.10 and the 1500m in 4:12.93. She followed that up later in April at the South African University Championships with victories in the 400m in 53.16, the 800m in 2:02.52, and the 1500m in 4:22.64. In Dakar in May, she won the 800m in 2:00.61. In June, she made her debut on U.S. soil at the Diamond League Prefontaine Classic, finishing second in the 800m in 1:58.88. At the World Championships, Semenya finished second in the 800m in a season-best 1:56.35, the second-fastest time of her career.

Semenya returned to competition on July 18, 2010, winning two minor races in Finland. On August 22, she returned to Berlin, and on the same track that she won her world title, picked up a victory in the 800m at the ISTAF Meeting. Semenya started the race slowly, but finished strong in clocking 1:59.90, her first sub-2:00 clocking since the Worlds. Since she was not in full form, Semenya opted not to compete at the World Junior Championships or at the African Championships, but opted to target the Commonwealth Games in October. She improved her season's best to 1:58.16 at the Notturna di Milano meeting in early September, but was forced to skip the Games due to injury.

In November 2009, South Africa's sports ministry issued a statement that Semenya had reached an agreement with the IAAF to keep her gold medal and the prize money she won at the World Championships. The ministry did not say if she would be allowed to compete as a woman but they did note that the IAAF's threshold for when a female is considered ineligible to compete as a woman is unclear. In March 2010, Semenya was denied the opportunity to compete in the local Yellow Pages Series V Track and Field event in Stellenbosch because the IAAF had yet to release its findings from her gender test. On July 6, the IAAF finally cleared Semenya to return to international competition. The results of the gender tests, however, were not released.

While immediate accusations about who was to blame for the invasion of Semenya's privacy were directed squarely at the IAAF, it soon became apparent that she was betrayed from within her own circles. Wilfred Daniels, Semenya's coach with Athletics South Africa, resigned in September 2009 because he felt that the ASA "did not advise Ms. Semenya properly." He apologized for personally having failed to protect her. Athletics South Africa President Leonard Chuene, who was vocal in his outrage over the IAAF's handling of the matter, later admitted to having subjected Semenya to gender tests. He had previously lied to Semenya about the purpose of the tests and to others about having performed the tests. Furthermore, Chuene ignored a request from ASA team doctor Harold Adams to withdraw Semenya from the World Championships over concerns about the need to keep her medical records confidential. Chuene was subsequently fired.

The IAAF's handling of Semenya's case drew many negative reactions. A number of athletes, including retired sprinter Michael Johnson, criticized the organization for its response to the incident, and prominent South African civic leaders, commentators, politicians, and activists characterized the controversy as racist, and in violation of Semenya's privacy and human rights. Secretary General Pierre Weiss defended the IAAF and denied charges of racism. The federation explained that the motivation for the test was not suspected cheating but a desire to determine whether Semenya had a "rare medical condition" giving her an unfair competitive advantage. Several media outlets reported that Semenya was indeed a hermaphrodite, but those suspicions were never confirmed.

In an effort to try and paint Semenya in a more feminine light, You Magazine, the biggest-selling English-language magazine in South Africa, featured Semenya on the cover of its September 2009 publication. The runner's makeover in stilettos and liquid skinny jeans only served to revive the international debate about gender and what it means to be a woman. None of the talk seemed to affect Semenya, who told the magazine, "I see it all as a joke, it doesn't upset me. God made me the way I am and I accept myself. I am who I am and I'm proud of myself."

Semenya entered the World Championships in Berlin amid speculation that something was not right. She won her opening heat of the 800m in 2:02.51, and then ran 1:58.66 to win her semifinal race. By then the whispers had grown louder. On August 19, three hours before the 800m final, news broke that the IAAF had requested a gender test be performed on Semenya. She promptly went out and won gold in 1:55.45, a new World Junior Record. Afterward, Semenya was not made available to the media, as is commonplace. IAAF president Lamine Diack stated, "There was a leak of confidentiality at some point and this led to some insensitive reactions."

News of Semenya's drastic improvements spread like wildfire and soon after the African Championships, the International Association of Athletics Federations said it was "obliged to investigate" after learning she shaved 25 seconds off her PB in the 1500m and eight seconds off her best in the 800m "the sort of dramatic breakthroughs that usually arouse suspicion of drug use." The IAAF also asked Semenya to undergo a gender test.

Semenya carried the momentum gained from her late-season success in 2008 over into the next year. Although things started modestly, with a fifth-place finish in 2:09.85 at a local meet, she would not lose another race the remainder of the year. In March, she announced her arrival in Germiston with a victory at the Yellow Pages meet in 2:00.58, which established a new national junior record. At the African Championships in July, she lowered that mark to an incredible 1:56.72, the fastest time ever run by a South African woman. At the same meet, she also lowered her personal-best in the 1500m to 4:08.01.

Semenya made her first impact on the international running scene as a 17-year-old in the summer of 2008. In July, she participated in the World Junior Championships , finishing seventh in her heat in 2:11.98. But three months later, she followed that up at the Commonwealth Youth Games with a victory in the 800m in 2:04.23.

Semenya was not like the other girls growing up in her village. While she did the customary female chores, like fetching water, washing dishes, and cleaning the house, her recreational activities of choice were always more physical. According to the newspaper Beeld, Semenya always wore pants instead of skirts to school as she spent most of her time playing rough-and-tumble with the boys. Her high school principal, Eric Mobida, was quoted as saying that he didn't realize Semenya was a girl until she was in the 11th grade. Semenya grappled with the consequences of looking boyish even back then. Running was often her means of escape. Her grandmother, Maputhi Sekgala, said if the teasing hurt, Semenya would go off for long runs along in the countryside.

By all accounts, Semenya is said to have been a tomboy growing up. She grew up playing soccer with the boys in her rural village. She got her introduction to running as a means of training for soccer. When she started racing in school, she is said to have lapped the other girls her age, sometimes twice or more.

Semenya was born in Ga-Masehlong, a village in South Africa near Polokwane, and grew up in the village of Fairlie, deep in South Africa's northern Limpopo province. Semenya attended Nthema Secondary School and now attends the University of Pretoria as a sports science student. She has three sisters and a brother.




FACTS

How tall is she? How old is she? Where does she live? Find out here.

Age: 26 years old
Birthday: January 7, 1991
Height: 5' 7"
Weight: 141 lbs.
Birthplace: Ga-Masehlong, South Africa
Hometown: Fairlie, South Africa
Current Residence: Pretoria, South Africa


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