After 11 months in limbo, Semenya can look ahead to a welcome return
'We must accept she's female,' says British rival as South African is cleared to run again
It took a week short of 11 months but Caster Semenya was finally celebrating another victory yesterday. The South African teenager who stormed to victory in the women's 800m final at the World Championships in Berlin last August but who subsequently found herself in a state of limbo while the global governing body of athletics undertook gender verification tests has been given the go-ahead to pick up the threads of her running career. It is understood that the victory has come at the cost of hormone treatment for an inter-sex condition and it remains to be seen whether the 19-year-old returns to action as quite the same world-beating force.
The green light – which had been expected last November, then March, then June – came yesterday in the form of a three-line statement issued by the International Association of Athletics Federations. "The process initiated in 2009 in the case of Caster Semenya has now been completed," it read. "The IAAF accepts the conclusion of a panel of medical experts that she can compete with immediate effect. Please note that the medical details of the case remain confidential and the IAAF will make no further comment on the matter."
Semenya's simple reaction was: "I am thrilled to enter the global athletics arena once again and look forward to competing with all the disputes behind me."
Speaking to The Independent, Jenny Meadows, the British athlete who took the World Championship bronze medal behind Semenya and the Kenyan runner Janeth Jepkosgei, said: "I think the announcement that she would be allowed to run was always going to happen. It was just a case of when, and the medics have obviously come to a decision that she's now allowed to compete."
Asked whether she would be happy to compete against Semenya, Meadows – whose slender 5ft 1in figure cut a stark contrast to that of the big, muscular South African in the Berlin final – replied: "We'll never know what's happened in these 11 months but she's now been given the go-ahead. The medical team say that the place she's at now, she's a female. If they she's a female I'm happy to compete against her.
"I hope the IAAF have taken Semenya's best interests at heart, and the rest of the girls she'll be competing against. The IAAF make the rules and we race against her. We've got to accept that, yeah, she's a female.
"I think we'll never know what the situation was in Berlin. That's gone. They did say they would never release the results of the tests. I'm really, really glad that I got the bronze medal there. If I'd got that silver medal there would have always been that doubt that I might have been the world champion. We'll never know what the medical tests said in Berlin but maybe that bronze medal protected me from a little bit of heartache."
It would seem likely that the majority of the world's leading 800m runners would be of the same opinion as Meadows. Charles Van Commenee, head coach of UK Athletics, said: "I respect the verdict and solution the IAAF has given us. If the IAAF says the girl is clear to run, she is clear to run, and we have to find a way to beat her."
It is still unclear what kind of price Semenya has paid for her long, drawn-out marathon of a victory. It is believed that the young woman from the Limpopo region, who was 18 when she won in Berlin but who has since turned 19, has been undergoing a form of hormone therapy to treat an inter-sex condition and to satisfy the IAAF's medical gender requirements for a female competitor. The treatment, apparently, has been an ongoing process while the IAAF was telling the world that it was awaiting the results of gender verification tests.
The question is how much the treatment has diminished the power of the South African who won her world 800m crown by an emphatic margin, clocking 1 min 55.45sec. Janeth Jepkosgei of Kenya was a distant runner-up in 1:57.90, with Meadows claiming bronze in 1:57.93. Semenya has been restricted to training since that August night and reports suggest her performances have dropped to the region of 2:00.
"She's gone 11 months without competitive athletics and that's a lot for anybody," Meadows said. "Also, I've heard reports that she's not been training 100 per cent, which would make it hard to keep motivated. I have heard reports that she'll be running at the Commonwealth Games.
"Whether or not I'll be there, I've yet to decide on that. I think it's a case of wait and see. Anything can happen. I'll be as interested as anybody else to see what happens when she runs again."
Semenya may decide to head for the European circuit or for Canada, where the World Junior Championships take place at Moncton from 19 to 24 July. It is also likely that the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in October will feature in her plans.
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