Gender doubt over 800m star

Women's world No 1 Semenya faces tests to dispel rumours she has male genes

While Caster Semenya, the new teenage sensation of the women's 800m, was getting ready for the challenge of the World Championship final it emerged yesterday that the South African runner had been undergoing tests not of her speed but of her gender.

Speculation about the sexuality of the 18-year-old had been mounting on the track and field scene since Semenya shot to the top of the world rankings for the two-lap event with a stunning time of 1min 56.72sec in the African Junior Championships in Mauritius three weeks ago.

Just five hours before she was due to line up as favourite for the 800m final in the Olympiastadion in Berlin came confirmation that she had been subjected to tests to determine her gender.

Nick Davies, communications director of the International Association of Athletics Federations, confirmed Athletics South Africa had been contacted and asked to provide "gender verification documentation". "The gender verification test is extremely complex and difficult and the report has not yet been concluded," Davies said. "The situation today is that we don't have any conclusive evidence that she should not be allowed to run."

Semenya's coach, Michael Seme, maintained that his charge was prepared to "take off her pants" to prove her sexuality. He said Semenya, who hails from the Limpopo province, had been stopped from entering female toilets at a petrol station in Cape Town recently because attendants were convinced she was a man. "Caster just laughed and asked if they would like her to take off her pants to show them she was a woman," he said.

Seme laughed in recalling the incident, adding he was "100 per cent certain" that Semenya was female. He said he was keen to clear the air after all of the trackside speculation. "We understand people will ask questions because she looks like a man," he said. "It's a natural reaction and it's only human to be curious. People probably have the right to ask such questions... But I can give you the telephone numbers of her room-mates in Berlin. They have already seen her naked in the showers and she has nothing to hide."

Davies stressed: "It's a medical issue. It's not an issue of cheating. We have to be very sensitive to this. We're dealing with a human being, someone who was born as a woman and who has grown up as a woman and we now have this issue where that is being questioned."

Semenya, who broke Zola Budd's South African junior 800m record in March, is not the first track and field athlete to become embroiled in gender speculation. Stella Walsh, the Polish sprinter who won the Olympic women's 100m title in Los Angeles in 1932 and who took silver in the Olympiastadion here four years later, was found to have partially developed male genitalia. Subsequent tests revealed that she possessed both male and female chromosomes, a condition known as mosaicism.

The German athlete who finished fourth in the women's high jump at the 1936 Berlin Olympics was known as Dora Ratjen but was later discovered to be a man, Hermann Ratjen.

Sex tests were introduced in athletics in 1966 following suspicion that Soviet athletes competing as females were male. Mandatory sex tests were introduced at Olympic Games but dropped after 1992. Only one female competitor was excused the examination at the 1972 Games in Munich: Princess Anne.

In the genes: Dora or Hermann?

How is an athlete's gender verified? Sex tests have changed greatly from the physical examination of the 1960s. They now involve gynaecologists, endocrinologists, psychologists, gender experts and the analysis of blood samples to detect the presence of the Y chromosome gene SRY that indicates male orientation.

Are there any previous cases? After breaking the women's high-jump world record at the European Championships in Vienna in 1938, the athlete known as Dora Ratjen was spotted with a "five o'clock shadow" on the train back to Germany – an examination revealed her to be a man. Hermann Ratjen claimed Nazi officials forced him to compete.

Stella Walsh won the women's 100m at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles and took silver in 1936. She was shot dead during a robbery at a shop in in 1980 and was found to have male genitalia.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power