When Caster Semenya, the reigning Olympic silver medalist in the women’s 800 meters, walks onto the Olympic track for the first time during these Games on Wednesday morning, some will see a runner doing what she was born to do.
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Others will see nothing but trouble, the almost-certain gold medalist competing with an unfair advantage.
Almost everyone will see a controversy that could have — should have — been dealt with years earlier, an issue largely unresolved for seven years now, leaving Semenya to twist in the wind through no fault of her own.
The 25-year-old South African has a condition called hyperandrogenism, meaning her testosterone levels are far higher than normal. She has no womb or ovaries but, because of a chromosomal abnormality, she has internal testes.
In 2011, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) introduced regulations that required Semenya and others with her condition to take testosterone-suppressing medication.
However, last year, Indian sprinter Dutee Chand, who also has hyperandrogenism, appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which ruled it could not find enough evidence that there was an athletic advantage for female athletes with high levels of testosterone.
CAS ordered the IAAF to look further into the matter, and just last week, IAAF President Sebastian Coe said he was likely to appeal the ruling over the next year.
This is the backdrop against which Semenya competes this week: International sports officials still trying to figure out what they want to do years after an issue surfaces, leaving a vacuum filled by doubt, fear and innuendo. If Semenya wins the gold medal this week, expect those concerns to grow, at her expense, of course.
Even as Coe and his sport waffle over how Semenya should be treated, he acknowledged the value of her inclusion.
“We need to remember these are human beings,” he told reporters here last week. “This is a sensitive subject, they are athletes, they are daughters, they are sisters, and we need to be very clear about this. We will treat this sensitively. We need to go back to CAS and we have the right people looking at this.”.
In the meantime, it is only right that there should be a place in these Olympic Games for Semenya.
“I am not a fake,” she told the BBC last year. “I am natural. I am just being Caster. I don’t want to be someone I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be someone people want me to be.