Sport

Semenya’s legacy continues to blossom with bronze in 1,500m

Caster Semenya bagged bronze in the 1,500m at the IAAF World Championships in London on Monday night. In a tough race – and with her main event still to come – this was another box ticked in an ever-growing legacy of one of the greatest athletes South Africa has produced. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

Caster Semenya added to South Africa’s medal tally at the IAAF World Championship in London on Monday night by winning bronze in the 1,500m.

In a tough field, in an event she doesn’t run regularly, Semenya ran a dubiously tactical race. Fast right from the get-go, Semenya almost looked like she was taken by surprise with the final lap, but her ability to accelerate on the final straight ensured a podium finish.

Third behind Faith Kipyegon (4:02.59) and Jennifer Simpson (4:02.76), Semenya’s time of 4:02:90 is some way off her personal best, but that hardly mattered. This is not her main event.

Semenya did what she always does in all her races. She sat back, dropping to the middle of the pack and letting the other runners do the hard work. Great Britain’s Laura Muir went fast upfront and tried to control the race from the start. Semenya let her.

She let everyone do the hard work. And then, when she had dropped right to the back, she set off for the final lap. As the bell sounded, the pace increased, she gave it all on the final straight with bodies bundling over the line, and settled for bronze after a brutal sprint to beat Muir over the line.

The medal is vindication and another box ticked in the legacy of an athlete who will be considered one of the best South Africa has ever produced.

On pure athletic ability, she is unrivalled. Her versatility to adapt to different distances is exceptional. And her dedication to her training – she never misses a session and never complains – sets her apart from other runners.

That dedication has earned her plenty of accolades and her coach, Jean Verster, has nothing but praise for her dedication to the cause.

But it is off the track where Semenya is really beyond compare.

Semenya is gentle and engaging and yet she doesn’t owe anyone any of this.

With the way she has been mistreated – both by the professional bodies that are supposed to protect her and some of her fellow athletes – nobody would begrudge her if she, well, held a bit of a grudge.

And yet, she doesn’t. Instead, she is impeccably polite. Whether that’s congratulating every single one of her competitors after a race – whatever they might have said about her before – or simply greeting everyone at the track, Semenya embodies the spirit of sport.

Her compassion is beyond compare. And she is not afraid to speak up for her fellow runners.

After winning in Rio last year, when reporters quizzed the women on the podium about whether they had taken testosterone-suppressing medication, Semenya refused to have the so-called intersex “controversy” get in the way of their achievements.

Excuse me, my friend, tonight is all about performance, we are not here to talk about the IAAF and some speculations. Tonight is all about performances, and this press conference is about the 800m that we ran today, so thank you,” Semenya told a press conference.

No one asked her to take up the fight for her fellow athletes, but she did. Perhaps because she has been under that horrific and privacy invading scrutiny before at the same young age as her fellow medal winners.

One of the athletes on the podium with her, Margaret Wambui, was just 20 years old in Rio. Semenya has been there, done that, as a teenager herself.

She is an exceptional human being. And despite having every part of her body routinely scrutinised and her privacy invaded, she speaks about it candidly.

In an interview with Ali Bacher on the In Conversation series recently, she said:

I don’t understand when you say I have an advantage because I am a woman. When I pee, I pee like a woman. I don’t understand when you say I’m a man or I have a deep voice. I know I’m a female so there’s no question for me,” she said.

I have to find a way to deflect this, so instead of allowing it to all be negative, I turn it into a positive. My family’s support system is fantastic.”

Imagine if we all exhibited just an ounce of her humility.

Imagine if those who routine scrutinise her, ignoring the hours and hours on the track, the sacrifices and the hard work, could exhibit just an ounce of her humility. DM

Photo: Kenya's Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon (C) celebrates after crossing the finish line to win the women's 1,500m final at the London 2017 IAAF World Championships in London, Britain, 07 August 2017. Kipyegon won ahead of second placed Jennifer Simpson (R) of the USA and third placed Caster Semenya (L) of South Africa. EPA/SRDJAN SUKI

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