South African Runner Caster Semenya Could Be The Most Talked-About Athlete At Rio Olympics

South African Runner Caster Semenya Could Be The Most Talked-About Athlete At Rio Olympics


The limit on testosterone levels is banned until July 2017 for female athletes, making South African runner Caster Semenya one of the most talked-about athletes in Rio, The Big Lead reported.

No longer required to take hormones to reduce her testosterone levels, Semenya, 25, is at the top of her game. She recently ran the fastest 800 meter since 2008, and she may also run the 400 meter at the Olympics. Semenya already won a silver medal in the 2012 Games while taking hormones to reduce her testosterone levels.

Semenya’s speed has put her at the heart of controversy and uncertainty related to gender, athletics and human rights, USA Today reported.

This year Semenya won the 400-, 800- and 1500-meter runs — all on the same day — at the South African championships. Her time of 1:55.33 in the 800 this month is the world’s best since 2008.

Semenya has been subjected to invasive and embarrassing gender tests because of her muscular build and speed. She has never said she is intersex — the word preferred to the stigmatizing hermaphrodite, USA Today reported, but her private parts are a topic of intense public debate. Intersex is an umbrella term for people born with sex characteristics “that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies,” according to the human rights arm of the U.N.

Track observers believe Semenya is hyperandrogenous, meaning her body naturally produces large volumes of testosterone, the hormone that helps build muscle, speed and endurance. Track and field’s governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federation, limits the amount of naturally occurring functional testosterone allowed for female athletes. Those limits are in limbo, suspended in 2015 by the Court of Arbitration for Sport which said there’s insufficient evidence that high levels boost female performance.

The IAAF has until 2017 to make a case for its regulations or the court will abolish them. Meanwhile, the rules don’t apply at the Rio Games.

Semenya has won every major 800-meter race she entered this season
and it seems the sports world doesn’t know what to do with her, the Associated press reported, according to NBC.

She and other athletes like her may present one of the greatest dilemmas for the perception of fairness in sports.

Semenya is a woman because she says she’s a woman, legally recognized at birth as female, treated as female, and identified as female. Nobody can dictate to Semenya what gender she is, AP reported.

Since the 1950s, track and field has conducted sex testing to protect women’s competitions, initially using very basic sexual anatomy tests, and later using chromosomes.

The tests didn’t work. Genitals or chromosomes don’t make athletes run faster, jump higher or throw farther. Testosterone does, according to the IAAF, which says it’s the most significant factor in athletic performance. Men mostly have more testosterone than women. In 2011, the IAAF officially drew a line between men and women in terms of testosterone.

In 2010 after Semenya was suspended from racing for two years, the outcry shone the spotlight on sex testing in sport, Southern African News reported. The New York Times called it a “humiliating practice” and a violation of human rights.

Australian former athlete Madeleine Pape become a Semenya champion. Pape competed in the 800 meters at the World Championships in Berlin in August 2009, finishing second last. Semenya won the same race by two-and-a-half seconds, the biggest margin in World Championship history, helping strengthen the debate about sex testing in sport.

English marathon champion Paula Radcliffe argued in court that elevated testosterone levels “make the competition unequal in a way greater than simple natural talent and dedication.”

Pape countered that there is no such thing as a “level playing field.” Athletes compete with many advantages ranging from superior aerobic capacity to access to better training facilities.

Pape said she’s a passionate advocate of gender equality in sport, and that “hyperandrogenism” regulations used to disqualify female athletes are based on flawed science that uphold “dominant gender stereotypes.”

Sport’s highest court ruled that women with naturally high levels of testosterone could not be prevented from competing. The “hyperandrogenism regulations” set by the International Association of Athletics Federation were suspended for two years — long enough to give Semenya a chance to compete at Rio.

“I think it’s easy to look for ways to discredit the performances of people who have beaten you even when they’ve done it fairly and squarely, especially when you haven’t performed as well as you were supposed to,” Pape told the Sydney Morning Herald.