Semenya delights fans

CASTER Semenya is ready to burn up the South African tracks for the first time since August 2009, when the gender testing debacle halted her dominance.

The 800m world champion was last year cleared by the IAAF to run as a woman and has since competed in various events abroad.

But this will be the first time the Moletjie-born runner competes in front of her home fans.

This will happen in Potchefstroom on January 22 when an array of South African athletes invades this tiny North West town for the traditional cross-country season-opener national trials.

Semenya, who is in great shape after spending last month training with 60 budding athletes who are preparing for the 2011 season, is hugely popular in the country and is likely to attract a horde of fans to Potchefstroom.

She is equally popular beyond these shores and an entourage of international media is expected to cover the event. Many of her supporters and the ANC Youth League were vocal in hailing the IAAF when the international body cleared her to run as a woman.

This vindicated former Athletics SA chief Leonard Chuene, prompting calls for the lifting of his suspension.

Semenya, who trains young athletes through her recently established Caster Semenya Foundation, won the world 800m at the IAAF Championship in Berlin.

She could not be reached for comment yesterday. Athletics SA assistant administrator Hendrick "The Champ" Ramaala said they anticipated a large crowd in Potchefstroom to watch their beloved queen on the day.

"Obviously, we are excited that she will finally compete at home after going through such a taxing patch that nearly destroyed her mentally," Ramaala said. "We will use the event on January 22 to select a team for the Southern Africa, continental and global cross-country championships."

The regional championships will take place in Zambia on February 22, with the African event scheduled for March 5 and 6 in a country still to be confirmed.

The IAAF world cross-country championships, which are dominated by runners from Kenya and Ethiopia, will be held in Spain on March 20.

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