Caster Semenya

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Caster Semenya
20090819 Caster Semenya cropped.jpg
Personal information
Nationality South African
Born (1991-01-07) 7 January 1991 (age 25)
Pietersburg (now Polokwane)
Residence South Africa
Alma mater North-West University
Height 1.70 m (5 ft 7 in)
Weight 64 kg (141 lb)
Sport Running
Event(s) 800 metres, 1500 metres
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s) 400m: 50.74
800m: 1:55.33
1500m: 4:01.99

Mokgadi Caster Semenya Bronze OIB (born 7 January 1991) is a South African middle-distance runner and world champion.[1][2] Semenya won gold in the women's 800 metres at the 2009 World Championships with a time of 1:55.45 in the final. Semenya also won silver medals at the 2011 World Championships and the 2012 Summer Olympics, both in the 800 metres.

Following her victory at the 2009 World Championships, it was announced that she had been subjected to gender testing.[2] She was withdrawn from international competition until 6 July 2010 when the IAAF cleared her to return to competition.[3][4] In 2010, the British magazine New Statesman included Semenya in a list of "50 People That Matter 2010".[5]

Early life and education[edit]

Semenya was born in Ga-Masehlong, a village in South Africa near Polokwane (back then called Pietersburg), and grew up in the village of Fairlie, "deep in South Africa's northern Limpopo province."[1][6] She has three sisters and a brother, and is said to have been a tomboy as a child.[6][7]

Semenya attended Nthema Secondary School and now attends the University of Pretoria as a sports science student.[2][8] She began running as training for soccer.[9]



In July Semenya participated in the 2008 World Junior Championships, and won the gold in the 800 m at the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games with a time of 2:04.23.[10]


In the African Junior Championships Semenya won both the 800 m and 1500 m races with the times of 1:56.72 and 4:08.01 respectively.[11][12] With that race she improved her 800 m personal best by seven seconds in less than nine months, including four seconds in that race alone.[2][13] The 800 m time was the world leading time in 2009 at that date.[13] It was also a national record and a championship record. Semenya simultaneously beat the Senior and Junior South African records held by Zelda Pretorius at 1:58.85, and Zola Budd at 2:00.90, respectively.[14]

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) says it was "obliged to investigate" after she made improvements of 25 seconds at 1500 m and eight seconds at 800 m – "the sort of dramatic breakthroughs that usually arouse suspicion of drug use."[15] The IAAF also asked Semenya to undergo a gender test after the win.[16][note 1] News that the IAAF requested the test broke three hours before the 2009 World Championships 800 m final.[13] IAAF president Lamine Diack stated, "There was a leak of confidentiality at some point and this led to some insensitive reactions."[19]

In August Semenya won gold in the 800 metres at the World Championships with a time of 1:55.45 in the final, again setting the fastest time of the year.[20]

Gender test[edit]

Following her victory at the world championships, questions were raised about her gender.[2][13][21][22]

The IAAF's handling of the case spurred many negative reactions. A number of athletes, including retired sprinter Michael Johnson, criticized the organization for its response to the incident.[16][23] Prominent South African civic leaders, commentators, politicians, and activists characterized the controversy as racist, as well as an affront to Semenya's privacy and human rights.[24][25] The IAAF said it only made the test public after it had already been reported in the media, denying charges of racism and expressing regret about "the allegations being made about the reasons for which these tests are being conducted."[15][26] The federation also explained that the motivation for the test was not suspected cheating but a desire to determine whether she had a "rare medical condition" giving her an unfair competitive advantage.[27] The president of the IAAF stated that the case could have been handled with more sensitivity.[28] In an interview with South African magazine YOU Semenya stated, "God made me the way I am and I accept myself." She also took part in a makeover with the magazine.[29]

On 7 September 2009, Wilfred Daniels, Semenya's coach with Athletics South Africa (ASA), resigned because he felt that ASA "did not advise Ms. Semenya properly". He apologised for personally having failed to protect her.[30] ASA President Leonard Chuene admitted on 19 September 2009 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. He 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.[31] On the recommendation of South Africa's Minister for Sport and Recreation, Makhenkesi Stofile, Semenya retained the legal firm Dewey & LeBoeuf who are acting pro bono "to make certain that her civil and legal rights and dignity as a person are fully protected."[32][33][34] Following the furore over her gender, Semenya received great support within South Africa,[16][23] to the extent of being called a cause célèbre.[25]

In November 2009 South Africa's sports ministry issued a statement that Semenya had reached an agreement with the IAAF to keep her medal and the prize money.[35] 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.[35] In December 2009 Track and Field News voted Semenya the Number One Women's 800 metre runner of the year.[36]


Semenya on the 2010 Diamond League circuit

In March 2010 she was denied the opportunity to compete in the local Yellow Pages Series V Track and Field event in Stellenbosch, South Africa, because the IAAF had yet to release its findings from her gender test.[37]

On 6 July, the IAAF cleared Semenya to return to international competition. The results of the gender tests, however, were not released for privacy reasons.[3] She returned to competition nine days later winning two minor races in Finland.[38] On 22 August 2010, running on the same track as her World Championship victory, Semenya started slowly but finished strongly, dipping under 2:00 for the first time since the controversy, while winning the ISTAF meet in Berlin.[39]

Not being on full form, she did not enter the World Junior Championships or the African Championships, both held in July 2010, and opted to target the Commonwealth Games to be held in October 2010.[40] She improved her season's best to 1:58.16 at the Notturna di Milano meeting in early September and returned to South Africa to prepare for the Commonwealth Games.[41] Eventually, she was forced to skip the games due to injury.[42]

In September, the British magazine New Statesman included Semenya in its annual list of "50 People That Matter" for unintentionally instigating "an international and often ill-tempered debate on gender politics, feminism, and race, becoming an inspiration to gender campaigners around the world."[5]


After the controversy of the previous year, Semenya returned to action with a moderately low profile, only running 1:58.61 at the Bislett Games as her best prior to the World Championships. During the championships, she easily won her semi-final heat. In the final, she showed her strength by cruising past the majority of the field, holding the lead into the final straightaway. While she separated from the rest of the field, Mariya Savinova followed her, then sprinted past Semenya before the finish line, without a reaction from Semenya.


Caster Semenya was chosen to carry the country's flag during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics.[43] She later won a silver medal in the women's 800 metres of these games, with a time of 1:57.23 seconds, her season's best. She passed six competitors in the last 150 metres, but did not pass world champion Mariya Savinova of Russia, who took gold in a time of 1:56.19, finishing 1.04 seconds before Semenya.[44] During the BBC coverage after the race, former British hurdler, Colin Jackson raised the question whether Semenya had thrown the race, as the time that had been run was well within her capability,[45][46] though it is worth noting that Semenya has only once in her life run faster than Savinova's winning time, which was when winning the 2009 World title.[47] In November 2015, the World Anti-Doping Agency recommended Savinova and four other Russian athletes be given a lifetime ban for doping violations at the Olympics.[48] The International Olympic Committee has not yet issued any disqualifications. If the IOC does disqualify Savinova and advances the finishers, Semenya could be awarded the gold medal.[49] The same Mariya Savinova also displaced Semenya from the gold medal in the 2011 World Championships.


On April 16, Caster became the first person to win all three of the 400m, 800m, and 1500m titles at the South African National Championships, setting world leading marks of 50.74 and 1:58.45 in the first two events, and a 4:10.93 in the 1500m, all within a nearly 4 hours span of each other.[50] [51] On July 16, she set a new national record for 800 meters of 1:55:33.

Personal life and honors[edit]

In 2012 Semenya was awarded South African Sportswoman of the Year Award at the coveted SA Sports Awards in Sun City. Semenya received the bronze Order of Ikhamanga on April 27, 2014, as part of Freedom Day festivities.[52]

In mid 2014, Semenya denied reports from the Daily Sun that she had paid lobola to the family of Violet Raseboya,[53] telling The Sowetan that she was focused exclusively on her studies and athletics, with no wedding planned.[54][55] At the end of 2015, Semenya and Raseboya were said to have become married.[56]

See also[edit]


Explanatory notes

  1. ^ The IAAF ceased compulsory tests in 1992 but retains the right to test athletes.[17] Gender verification was dropped from Olympic sports in 1999 as the issue was delicate and scientifically complicated. The verification involves "an endocrinologist, a gynaecologist, an internal medicine expert, an expert on gender and a psychologist" and takes several weeks. This is not the first time the IAAF has asked for gender verification although generally the athletes maintain their privacy.[18]


  1. ^ a b "Birth certificate backs SA gender". BBC News. 21 August 2009. Retrieved 21 August 2009. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Slot, Owen (19 August 2009). "Caster Semenya faces sex test before she can claim victory". London: The Times. Retrieved 20 August 2009. 
  3. ^ a b "Semenya cleared to return to track immediately". Associated Press. 6 July 2010. Archived from the original on 9 July 2010. Retrieved 6 July 2010. 
  4. ^ Kessel, Anna (6 July 2010). "Caster Semenya may return to track this month after IAAF clearance". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 6 July 2010. 
  5. ^ a b "Caster Semenya – 50 people that matter 2010". Retrieved 15 October 2010. 
  6. ^ a b "'she wouldn't wear dresses and sounds like a man on the phone': Caster Semenya's father on his sex-riddle daughter". Daily Mail. 23 August 2009. Retrieved 27 August 2009. 
  7. ^ Abrahamson, Alan (20 August 2009). "Caster Semenya's present and future". Universal Sports. Archived from the original on 23 August 2009. Retrieved 30 August 2009. 
  8. ^ SAfrican in gender flap gets gold for 800 win[dead link] 22 August 2009, By RYAN LUCAS, Associated Press Writer
  9. ^ Prince, Chandre (29 August 2009). "Hero Caster’s road to gold". The Times. Retrieved 30 August 2009. [dead link]
  10. ^ "Young SA team strikes gold". Independent Online. 16 October 2008. Retrieved 21 August 2009. 
  11. ^ Ouma, Mark (2 August 2009). "Nigerian Ogoegbunam completes a hat trick at Africa Junior Championships". Retrieved 21 August 2009. 
  12. ^ Ouma, Mark (31 July 2009). "South African teen Semenya stuns with 1:56.72 800m World lead in Bambous — African junior champs, Day 2". IAAF. Retrieved 21 August 2009. 
  13. ^ a b c d Tom Fordyce (19 August 2009). "Semenya left stranded by storm". BBC Sport. Retrieved 19 August 2009. 
  14. ^ South African teen Semenya stuns with 1:56.72 800m World lead in Bambous – African junior champs, Day 2 IAAF, 31 July 2009
  15. ^ a b Caster Semenya row: 'Who are white people to question the makeup of an African girl? It is racism': The decision to subject the gold medal-winning athlete Caster Semenya to sex tests over claims Caster is a man has provoked outrage in her village and throughout South Africa David Smith, The Observer, 23 August 2009
  16. ^ a b c "Semenya dismissive of gender row". BBC Sport. 20 August 2009. Retrieved 20 August 2009. 
  17. ^ Scant support for sex test on champion athlete New Scientist
  18. ^ "Caster Semenya faces sex test before she can claim victory" The Times, 19 August 2009
  19. ^ Hart, Simon (24 August 2009). "World Athletics: Caster Semenya tests 'show high testosterone levels'". London: The Times. Retrieved 30 August 2009. 
  20. ^ "800 Metres Women Final Results" (PDF). 19 August 2009. Retrieved 20 August 2009. 
  21. ^ Women's world champion Semenya faces gender test CNN, 20 August 2009
  22. ^ "Semenya told to take gender test". BBC Sport. 19 August 2009. Retrieved 19 August 2009. 
  23. ^ a b "South African unite behind gender row athlete". BBC News. 20 August 2009. Retrieved 20 August 2009. 
  24. ^ Dixon, Robyn (26 August 2009). "Caster Semenya, South African runner subjected to gender test, gets tumultuous welcome home". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 August 2009. 
  25. ^ a b Sawer, Patrick; Berger, Sebastian (23 August 2009). "Gender row over Caster Semenya makes athlete into a South African cause celebre". London: The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 27 August 2009. 
  26. ^ SA to take up Semenya case with UN The Times SA, 21 August 2009[dead link]
  27. ^ "SA fury over athlete gender test". BBC Sport. 20 August 2009. Retrieved 20 August 2009. 
  28. ^ "New twist in Semenya gender saga". BBC Sport. 25 August 2009. Retrieved 29 August 2009. 
  29. ^ "Makeover for SA gender-row runner". BBC News. 8 September 2009. Retrieved 8 September 2009. 
  30. ^ "S. Africa gender row coach resigns". BBC News. 7 September 2009. Retrieved 27 September 2009. 
  31. ^ Serena Chaudhry (19 September 2009). "South Africa athletics chief admits lying about Semenya tests". Reuters. Retrieved 27 September 2009. 
  32. ^ Dewey takes up Semenya case in IAAF dispute – Legalweek Magazine
  33. ^ Dewey & LeBoeuf to advise Caster SemenyaTimes Online Archived 25 September 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  34. ^ Dewey & LeBoeuf Retained to Protect Rights of South African Runner Caster Semenya – press release from Dewey & LeBoeuf.
  35. ^ a b Jere Longman "South African Runner’s Sex-Verification Result Won’t Be Public" New York Times, 19 November 2009
  36. ^ Track and Field News, 22 December 2009 Vol 8 Number 59
  37. ^ "Semenya announces return to competitive running". NBC Sports. Retrieved 30 March 2010. [dead link]
  38. ^ Yahoo News, 18 July 2010: Semenya easily wins again in Finland[dead link]
  39. ^ AP article Archived 24 August 2010 at the Wayback Machine.
  40. ^ CBC, 21 July 2010: Semenya has eyes on Commonwealth Games
  41. ^ Sampaolo, Diego (10 September 2010). Howe, Semenya, and Yenew highlight in Milan. IAAF. Retrieved 10 September 2010.
  42. ^ The Hindu, 29 September 2010: Injured Semenya pulls out of Commonwealth Games
  43. ^ "Caster Semenya rightly chosen to bear South Africa's flag at opening ceremony". CBS Sports. 22 July 2012. 
  44. ^ "Caster clinches silver medal". Sport24. 11 August 2012. 
  45. ^ "Semenya: 'I tried my best'". 
  46. ^ "Olympic Games - Semenya denies trying not to win Olympic title". Yahoo Sport. 14 August 2012. 
  47. ^ "All-time women's best 800 m". Track and Field all-time. Retrieved 3 June 2014. 
  48. ^ Gibson, Owen (9 November 2015). "Russia accused of ‘state-sponsored doping’ as Wada calls for athletics ban". Guardian. Retrieved 9 November 2015. 
  49. ^ "IOC ready to strip medals from Russians". TSN. 
  50. ^ "Semenya makes history at nationals". 
  51. ^ "Caster Semenya South African National Olympic Trials 1500 meters results". 
  52. ^ "Zuma presents National Orders in Pretoria". eNCA. 27 April 2014. 
  53. ^ Mdakane, Bongani (May 11, 2014). "Caster takes a wife!". The Daily SunMobi. Archived from the original on May 13, 2014. 
  54. ^ Staff reporter (14 May 2014). "Caster: Lobolo claim a lie". Times LIVE. 
  55. ^ Farren Collins (May 13, 2014). "Caster Semenya denies lobola rumours". Sowetan LIVE. 
  56. ^ "Reports: Caster Semenya celebrates traditional wedding". Channel. Retrieved 2015-12-26. 

External links[edit]

Olympic Games
Preceded by
Natalie du Toit
Flagbearer for  South Africa
London 2012
Succeeded by
Wayde van Niekerk