Caster Semenya’s long journey to Olympic gold must surely have been incredibly painful at times, but her victory in Rio early yesterday finally saw her rise above years of controversy and humiliation, and claim what is rightfully hers.
Semenya not only comfortably won the 800m final, but set a new South African record in the process.
She showed enormous resilience and focus under difficult circumstances – a display of character that has not only turned her into a global champion, but will make her even more of a role model to young South Africans than she already is.
Her Olympic victory is certainly overdue when you consider that she finished second in the 800m final in London in 2012, behind the Russian Mariya Savinova, who has since been named in a doping report and could face a lifetime ban.
Unfortunately there will always be those who will question the Limpopo runner’s right to gold owing to her relentlessly debated condition.
The 25-year-old has hyperandrogenism, which means her testosterone levels are well in excess of the vast majority of women.
With this victory, and others to come, the ethical storm will sadly continue to rage for Semenya, fuelled by those using gender stereotyping to hold on doggedly to the notion that her condition gives her an unfair advantage in sport.
Semenya’s compelling personal journey has gifted us with many valuable lessons.
Let us now give her the gift of allowing her to celebrate her big moment – quite possibly the greatest of her sports career – with joy and not judgment.
Though there were errors aplenty on the part of our Olympic selectors, which potentially cost the country several medals, Team South Africa have done us proud with a glittering Olympic haul of 10 medals, two of them gold.
Like Semenya, our 400m hero, Wayde van Niekerk, who smashed the world record, is a fantastic young role model who may well soar to even greater heights.
Semenya’s mastery on the track lifted South Africa to its best Olympic performance since Antwerp in 1920 and Helsinki in 1952. As in Rio, 10 medals were secured in each.
Rio is officially SA’s secondbest Olympics of all time, ranking only behind the 1920 games where three golds were won.