x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Olympics: Caster Semenya alone 'holds the key to her' future

Returning to run after being banned and dogged by accusations of doping and questions of her gender, South African Caster Semenya says she will draw inspiration from Nelson Mandela and Maria Mutola for London 2012.

Caster Semenya is hoping she can once again find a golden shine at 800 metres representing South Africa at the London Games.
Caster Semenya is hoping she can once again find a golden shine at 800 metres representing South Africa at the London Games.

South African Caster Semenya says she will draw inspiration from Nelson Mandela and Maria Mutola as she seeks to reclaim her 800-metre crown at the London Games.

It was the political icon Mandela who stood by the 21 year old during her darkest days after winning the 2009 world title, when rivals questioned her gender after she was found to have three times the testosterone of an average female.

And Mutola, the Sydney Olympics 800m champion from Mozambique, rekindled the spirits of a shy woman born in a north-eastern South African village.

The sporting tale of Mokgadi Caster Semenya is one of triumph, humiliation and a resilience she hopes will reach a climax on August 11 with a gold medal after the 800m final in London.

The world athletics body IAAF took notice of previously unknown Semenya when she clipped almost eight seconds off her 800m time during 2009 and destroyed a star-studded field in Berlin to win the world title. Drug tests were followed by gender tests and the situation spiralled from there, with Caster complaining of "unwarranted and invasive scrutiny of the most intimate and private details of my being".

She was barred from the track for almost a year before being cleared to run again and her comeback was hampered by a lower-back injury and a growing belief that coach Michael Seme had taken her as far as he could.

"If I win gold, I will dedicate it to Nelson Mandela. He is a hero in South Africa and everything I do, I do for him," Semenya said.

"He motivated me during the dark days after my world title victory, made me believe in what I do best and that I could win more medals. Without his support, maybe I would not be where I am today."

If Mandela inspires Semenya, Mutola is the force driving her onwards.

Mutola had to compete in four Olympics before achieving her golden moment, and she is adamant Caster can climb to the middle of the podium much quicker.

"I believe she is far ahead of me as she clocked 1min 55.45sec at 18 [years old]. At that age I had not managed to break two minutes," said Mutola, a multiple world title winner.

"Had it not been for the issues that prevented her from running for some time after her Berlin triumph, Caster could have lowered her time to one minute, 51 or 52 seconds by now.

"Caster holds the key to her future. She must motivate herself, believe in herself. I sense that everything is falling into place and the perfect ending would be for her to win gold at her first Olympics."

The South African public and media consider Semenya the best medal bet among their athletes, although a glance at 800m times this year suggests the 2011 world championships silver medalist faces strong opposition in London.

You have to scroll past 39 times before reaching the best in 2012 by Semenya - 1:59.18.

The 2008 Olympic gold medalist, Pamela Jelimo of Kenya, has clocked five faster times and reigning world champion Mariya Savinova of Russia has three.

Jelimo and Semenya clashed late May in Czech city Ostrava and the Kenyan emerged a comfortable winner in 1:58.49 with Semenya second in 2:00.80 after leaving her push for the line too late.

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