Why Caster Semenya is tough and fearless

Caster says she played soccer at school and her skills were so good some did not believe she was a girl.
Caster says she played soccer at school and her skills were so good some did not believe she was a girl.
Image: Veli Nhlapo

World champ Caster Semenya has opened up about the treatment she endured over the years as a female athlete.

Yesterday, Semenya addressed the Standard Bank Top Women Conference in Ekurhuleni, where she detailed how her humble beginnings built her into the strong woman she is today.

Semenya said she started playing soccer at the age of four and was described as a "diski queen".

She said she played soccer at school and her skills were so good that some did not believe she was a girl. "They started questioning, 'are you really a girl'? One day, I walked naked into the change room [to prove I was a girl]," Semenya said.

She said she grew up around boys and had to walk about 11km every single day - the reason she is fast and strong.

"I was always in the bush [training]. Bullies for me never existed because how I responded to them was way rough. I was one of those young [ladies] that had no fear. I had goals. I knew that everything I touched would turn to gold."

With a mother who played netball and a father who was a soccer player, being in sport was a foregone conclusion.

"My dad thought I was going to be with Banyana Banyana but I disappointed him because I had to sell my soccer boots for spikes instead. He was quite surprised. Running is my destiny. When I'm on track, I forget about everything."

Semenya said she had always had to compete with older children when running as those her age could simply not match her talent. To run even faster, Semenya then trained in the sand so that she could not be matched on tracks.

"I think my parents raised me well. They have never questioned what I do, my feelings, how I see life. They accepted me for who I am. They could see that this one was a little bit different. I did not like being in the kitchen but being in the garden. I just wanted to give you background why I am tough, why am I fearless, why I do not care about what other people think about me," said Semenya.

She told journalists that she was still training to compete in middle-distance running despite the decision by the IAAF.

"I can only decide when I know that this battle is no longer worth the fight . At the moment I'm not gatvol with the fight. I'm still fresh. I'm not yet tired to give up."

Last month, a judge at the Swiss Federal Tribunal revoked a temporary suspension of the IAAF's controversial testosterone-curbing rules.

The rules require women with higher than normal male hormone levels, a condition known as hyperandrogenism, to artificially lower the amount of testosterone in their bodies if they are to compete in races over distances of 400m to the mile.

This meant that Semenya could not be able to defend her world 800m title at the World Championships in Doha, Qatar, next month.

She described the rules as discriminatory to women.

"If you don't want women in sport, take them out. Don't come with such nonsense of saying this woman has got higher testosterone . In men you don't categorise anything. You don't say this man has got a height advantage, is more masculine or has long legs. You don't say that. You say this athlete is phenomenal. He is the greatest that we've ever seen in the world. But come a female . you say maybe she's got this, she's got that. That p****s me off. I don't want to lie to you," Semenya said.

However, Semenya said she did not believe that she is being targeted simply because she is black.


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