Celebrating Caster

Strong-willed. Positive. Unapologetic about who she is. We catch up with the heroine of South African running.

Lisa Abdellah |

From 1 November, female track athletes with elevated levels of testosterone participating in the events Olympic gold medallist Caster Semenya typically features in will be required to take medication to reduce their levels of the hormone. Under the new IAAF rules, athletes who refuse will be shut out of competing in a thin band of events at international meetings, ranging from the 400 metres to the mile (1 600m).

As Semenya prepares for the 2020 Olympics, new rules for hyperandrogenic athletes are pushing her out of the sport.

But, Semenya says, tough battles – like the one she is about to face – make her stronger.

Runner’s World: How are your preparations going for the 2020 Olympics?

Caster Semenya: So far, so good. I’m feeling optimistic. My approach is always to take it step by step, and I like to focus on short-term goals.

Each month, I try to improve my fitness, biomechanics and breathing. I train twice a day; two hours in the morning and another two hours in the evening, with a rest in between those sessions. During each session, my coach Samuel Sepeng and I focus on form, pace and power. He pushes me hard, which is one of the reasons I believe he’s one of the best in the business.

I’m a simple person, so I always tend to go for the basics when it comes to nutrition – eggs are on top of my list.

I’ll be 29 when I compete in the 800m at my third Olympics, so they could possibly be my last. But you never know where you’re going to end up – I could still run even faster after that!

RW: What sacrifices have you made to excel in your sport?

CS: It has taken discipline and passion to excel in what I do, but I wouldn’t say I’ve made sacrifices. I lack nothing in my life. I had a happy, solid childhood, and my adulthood is bountiful.

RW: Have you dedicated your life to running?

CS: Absolutely. If you give it your all, you’re bound to see results.

RW: You combine your training with a sports-science degree at North West University. Why is education important to you?

CS: I felt it necessary to do that so I could understand how psychology and physiology affects performance in sport. I’m passionate about what I do, but it’s also important to factor in what comes next in my future.

I would like to use my education to develop young athletes and venture into other spaces related to development.

RW: Who is the real Caster?

CS: She is exactly who you see: humble, focussed, a force, determined, simple and genuine. She loves her family and friends.

RW: Does the public see the real you?

CS: I would like to think so. I have very loyal supporters, and I appreciate them.

RW: Do you care what people think of you?

CS: I care that they are inspired by my journey. If I can positively impact a single life, then that’s a job well done. When it comes to other, more flimsy opinions… I don’t play in that space.

RW: Since 2009, your gender has been questioned. What does it mean to you to have your commitment and sacrifice discredited?

CS: I no longer focus on that. I chose to be positive, and move on. Negativity will only affect you if you allow it to. I have medals to win; my mentality and mindset must be those of a winner.

RW: How did you feel about Lynsey Sharp’s comment at the 2016 Rio Olympics – especially since it was coming from a fellow woman athlete?

CS: I’m not affected by negativity. I’m able to zone in on what matters. And with a strong support system, like the one I have, this isn’t difficult to do.

RW: Despite having to deal with other peoples’ negative opinions, you‘ve continued to thrive, where others might have thrown in the towel. Why is that?

CS: I am strong-willed, I am positive, I am unapologetic about who I am; and I’m going to continue doing what God has blessed me to do.

RW: Who or what do you run for?

CS: I run for myself, my family, and the young athletes of the future who look up to me.

RW: You’re not the same person you were back in 2009. What have you done differently to develop self-confidence?

CS: I took control of who I am, and claimed my uniqueness; and I’m proud of the woman I’ve become. Experience will teach you many things – some of the battles I have overcome have made me stronger.

RW: What support has your partner, Violet, offered you? Who else do you have in your corner?

CS: She is everything. She is my number-one supporter. My family is the anchor that keeps me grounded. I also have a good team: my coach, a strong management team, friends, sponsors – not to mention my supporters.

RW: If you win gold at the 2020 Olympics, you’ll receive a lot of attention. Does that scare you?

CS: Not at all. I look forward to that defining moment.

RW: Usain Bolt has retired from running. The sport needs a new hero or heroine. Given all that you have achieved – you’re an idol to millions of young South Africans – do you consider yourself eligible for the role?

CS: Yes, I do. But I see many heroes and heroines at all my races, even in other sporting codes. Each worthy opponent that steps out onto that track is deserving of being looked at as courageous and powerful. I consider myself a positive influence, and I take that role very seriously.

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