By Dave Feschuk
Published August 9th, 2012
LONDON—Caster Semenya was raised poor in a small South African village, where she milked the cows and cooked over an open fire.
On Friday, she’ll be running for gold beneath the glow of the Olympic flame.
Certainly her time on the international stage has been an ordeal that, at times, has threatened to reduce her career to ashes. More than three years since her gift for running 800 metres put her in the centre of a global controversy questioning her gender, Semenya stormed into Friday’s final of the women’s 800 by winning her semifinal in one minute, 57.67 seconds, the fastest of all qualifiers.
“I’ll just have to go to my bed and jump, jump, jump,” said the 21-year-old, underscoring her giddiness at the achievement.
For Semenya, who carried the flag for South Africa at the opening ceremonies, Thursday’s run was her fastest of a trying season that has seen her take a competitive step backward. But after she received an unequivocally warm welcome from the estimated crowd of 80,000 at Olympic Stadium, she went from fifth to first during the latter stages of the bell lap to win easily.
“It’s a little bit nervous when they called my name, to feel the support,” she said. “I feel home. It reminds me of good memories.”
Considering the stresses of the past few years, recent ones are likely in short supply. Semenya first burst onto the international stage at the 2009 world championships, where she won gold in the 800 metres in 1:55.45. But even before she beat the world’s best by more than two seconds, word leaked that the sport’s international governing body had demanded she submit to a gender test. Her masculine physique and deep voice, not to mention her great times, have led other athletes and officials to question her femininity.
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Published August 2012