Semenya Brings Home Gold for South Africa


Penelope Cairns |

Semenya dominated the final, making a surge on the last turn to set a national record and bring home gold for South Africa. – By Brian Dalek

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 20:  Caster Semenya of South Africa celebrating her gold medal in the Women's 800m race. Olympic Athletics August 20, 2016 at the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by ©Christiaan Kotze/SASPA
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – AUGUST 20: Caster Semenya of South Africa celebrating her gold medal in the Women’s 800m race. Olympic Athletics August 20, 2016 at the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo by ©Christiaan Kotze/SASPA

Caster Semenya of South Africa came in as an overwhelming favourite in the 800-metre final, and she indeed dominated the field in her gold-medal performance Saturday night.

Semenya ran not only the best race of her life, waiting until midway through the second lap to make a surge, but also she set a national record with her time of 1:55.28. She never lost a heat in Rio.

“It was just about pacing myself well, I know I am strong in the last 200,” Semenya said. “I just have to wait until the right moment. The coach told me [to] go out there and have fun with the girls. I’ve enjoyed the competition so yeah, fortunately my last 200 was quicker, the ladies are strong. They’ve done a fantastic job. Well done to them.”

Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi finished second in 1:56.49, which was the first time a woman from Burundi had won a medal. Margaret Wambui of Kenya took bronze in a personal best time of 1:56.89.

Along with her performance on the track, Semenya has been a story off it. She is believed to have DSD, a disorder of sex development, sometimes called intersex. As a result, her body might produce atypically high (for a woman) levels of natural testosterone, which might, in turn, enhance her running performance.

Semenya wasn’t interested in talking about any perceived controversy, and instead she spoke about the positives of competition.

“Sports is meant to unite people,” she said. “I think that’s what we need to keep doing. I think I make a difference. I mean a lot to my people. I’ve done well. They are proud of me. That was the main focus, just doing it for my people, for the people who support me. I think that’s important.”

In a press conference, a reporter asked the women on the podium if they had taken medication to lower their testosterone.

“Excuse me, my friend,” Semenya said. “Tonight is all about performance. We are not here to talk about IAAF, we are not hear to talk about some speculations. This press conference is all about the 800 metres that we ran today. So thank you.”

Asked to elaborate about the power of sports to unite people, Semenya replied, “I think it’s all about loving one another. It’s not about discriminating people. It’s not about looking at people, how they look. How they speak. How they run. It’s not about being being muscular. It’s all about sports. When you we walk out of your apartment, you think about performing. You do not think about how your opponents look. You just want to do better.”

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