Friday 30 September 2016

Semenya sets sights on silencing the 'haters'

Ben Rumsby

Published 20/08/2016 | 02:30

Caster Semenya prepares to compete in the Women's 800m semi-finals Photo: REUTERS/Dylan Martinez
Caster Semenya prepares to compete in the Women's 800m semi-finals Photo: REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

If you want a glimpse into the mind of Caster Semenya ahead of tonight's women's Olympic 800m final, you only need look at the content of her Twitter account since Rio 2016 began.

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"I truly believe my haters are my motivators," reads one slogan posted by the most controversial athlete at the Games. "Be happy in front of your haters. It kills them," goes another.

In fact, the word "haters" appears in five recent tweets or retweets by the 25-year-old, who has been subjected to a degree of abuse over her participation in Rio that can only be imagined.

Claiming gold tonight will do anything but quell the storm raging around the reluctant poster girl for hyperandrogenism, which the failure of sport to get to grips with has left Semenya and her rivals in a no-win situation.

No wonder the South African stopped to speak only to the official Olympic News Service after her semi-final victory in the early hours of yesterday morning.

Britain's Lynsey Sharp, who finished second in that semi, also dodged the question everyone wanted to ask, walking out of a post-race interview when quizzed about the overwhelming favourite.

"I'm not going to answer any more about that," snapped Sharp, who had already said her piece about the participation of Semenya at these Games and the advantage the latter enjoys as a so-called 'intersex' athlete.

"Everyone can see it's two separate races so there's nothing I can do," she said earlier this summer.

Having written her dissertation on the subject of hyperandrogenism during her law degree at Edinburgh's Napier University, Sharp appreciates the complexity of the issue.

And she left little doubt where she stood on how to address the natural advantage Semenya (pictured) enjoys as a result of her mixed gender, which has allowed her to run almost a second quicker than any of her rivals this year.

The International Association of Athletics Federations tried to tackle the problem by forcing her and other intersex athletes to take testosterone suppressants, something that cut Semenya's times dramatically before it was ruled illegal by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The 2012 European champion expanded further just before the Olympics when asked about running an impressive 1min 57.71sec in Monaco only to finish in sixth.

As well as trailing in Semenya's wake, she also lagged behind Kenya's Margaret Wambui and Burundi's Francine Niyonsaba, two other athletes in tonight's final whose performances have sparked rumours they, too, may be intersex.

France's Justine Fedronic, who failed to advance from the heats, said: "When you line up against someone like that, you know it's going to be a completely different ball game."

Semenya has been tipped to run under 1min 55sec - which no woman has done for eight years - if she unleashes her full potential tonight. Some are suggesting Jarmila Kratochvilova's 33-year-old world record of 1:53.28 could be under threat.

But Semenya said: "I'm not focused on the world records. I just ran my PB, so the focus is to go back home with the gold medal."

Semenya also dubbed the race as her "against the world", something reflected on her Twitter feed, which includes a picture and quote from Muhammad Ali that reads: "Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion."

But it is another quote which appears more prescient about the outcome of tonight's race.

"Dear Haters, I have so much more for you to be mad at," it reads. "Just be patient."

Telegraph.co.uk

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