Athlete tries to gloss over gender controversy

Caster Semenya attempts to end speculation about her sex with makeover in gossip magazine
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The Independent Online

South African athlete Caster Semenya has completed her transformation from gender troubled sporting champion into national celebrity with a photoshoot in the country's leading gossip magazine.

While the controversy rumbles on over whether the teenage runner is really male or female, her handlers have sought to end the debate with the aid of a costume change, make up and some studio lights.

With the front cover headline: "Wow, look at Caster now!" You magazine proudly boasts that it has turned her from "power girl" into "glamour girl" and apparently, "she loves it".

Inside, the 800m world champion – whose gender is being tested by the international athletics authorities – says the whole issue is a joke. "It doesn't upset me," she says. "God made me the way I am and I accept myself. I am who I am and I'm proud of myself."

The pictures show Semenya posing in skinny jeans, stilettos and a black and white evening dress.

News that the athlete would have to undergo testing was leaked before the 800m final at the world championships in Berlin, putting her under enormous pressure. Following her victory the ANC has seized upon her case to score political points, with left-wing firebrands such as Winnie Madikizela Mandela and ANC Youth League president Julius Malema accusing the athletics authorities of racism. They have also sought to use Semenya to stir up populist feeling against what is seen as the right wing of the ANC, represented by Trevor Manuel, President Jacob Zuma's planning chief.

Semenya received a heroine's welcome in her home village in South Africa's impoverished Limpopo province at the end of August, with VIPs and a 200-strong crowd singing a version of the Communist Party anthem, which included the lyrics: "My mother was a kitchen girl, my father was a garden boy, that's why I'm a champion, that's why I'm a champion."

The cover shoot has reignited the debate in South Africa over the athlete's appearance, with radio talk shows inundated with callers. The 18-year-old has refused to be drawn on what she is going through at present, telling the magazine: "I don't want to talk about the tests – I'm not even thinking about them."

She adds: "When I was in Berlin, I called my parents and said I'd heard people were talking about me. I told them not to listen to any of it. They know me and they know who I am."

South Africa's athletics coach Wilfred Daniels resigned earlier this week saying he regretted not protecting Semenya from negative publicity. "I'm so sorry for the part I played; because of my negligence she went through all that," he said.