On 3 August 2021, Caster Semenya will line up in the 200m final at the Tokyo Olympics. The magnificent Olympic Stadium in Shinjuku, a lively special ward or suburb of the Japanese capital, will be lit up and all the cameras flashing to catch a glimpse of the South African
Semenya’s journey to that starting line would’ve been nothing short of remarkable. She would have had to totally remodel herself as an athlete - from being the world’s best 800m runner and a medal contender in the 400m and 1 500m - to becoming a sprinter in the half-lap distance.
World Athletics’ draconian, sexist and ultimately racist regulations concerning female athletes with differences in sexual development (DSD) - which require such competitors to take medication or undergo surgery to lower their naturally occurring testosterone levels to participate in events from the 400m to the 1 500m - is a direct attack on Semenya.
The now-29-year-old still had one major goal in the two-lap event: to break the world record of 1:53.28 set by the Czech Republic’s Jarmila Kratochvilova in 1983 - the longest standing mark in the sport. Semenya’s personal best is 1:54.25, which ranks her fourth on the list.
But that dream seems to be out of reach after she lost her appeal against the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in the Swiss Supreme Court this week.
Semenya, though, responded in typically inspirational style, tweeting late on Tuesday night: “Chills my people. A man can change the rules, but the very same man cannot rule my life. What I’m saying is that I might have failed against them, the truth is that I have won this battle long ago. Go back to my achievements, then you will understand. Doors might be closed, not locked.”
That closed door that she will hope to open is the 200m Olympic title. Semenya stated even before the Swiss court ruling that she will be going all out to prepare for the sprint event in Tokyo, and Covid-19 has resulted in an extra year to get ready for that moment.
Her lawyers have indicated that they will challenge the Swiss court ruling, and Sports Minister Nathi Mthethwa said yesterday that government will also support any further efforts. “We call upon all South Africans, Africans and the entire world to rally behind Caster in our quest to defeat injustice against women in sport, and in particular African women.”
But whatever happens on that front, get set for August 3, 2021 - picture Semenya in her starting blocks in the 200m final, and watch her speed away from the rest of the field to claim her third Olympic gold medal. Imagine that! – www.iol.co.za
* Ashfak Mohamed is the Cape Town sports editor for the Independent Media group.