Caster Semenya gracious in defeat after losing award to Serena Williams
Caster Semenya did not win at the Laureus World Sports Awards here on Tuesday night, but the South African still smiled through the biting cold dubbed the “beast from the east” has brought to this most glamourous and extravagant of enclaves these past few days.
She had warm words for Serena Williams, who beat her for the Sports Woman of the Year title, on a night when tennis dominated the 18th awards, calling her an icon.
There was some small comfort for SA as Roger Federer, born to a South African mother, took home two gongs – Sports Man and Comeback of the Year – becoming the most decorated athlete in the history of the Laureus awards.
Semenya was, as ever, already looking forward to a year in which she is aiming to add two Commonwealth medals to her collection to complete an empty space in her cabinet, giving her just about every accolade it is possible for her to win without a vote.
It will be her first Commonwealth Games, having missed Delhi in 2010 because of injury and Glasgow in 2014 after she failed to meet the criteria set down by the authorities.
The Gold Coast will see her in perhaps the form of her life.
“For Gold Coast, we are looking at doubling for the 800m and the ‘thou-five’ [1,500m], and I think we are getting there, we are on the right track. We are getting into shape. Our team are simple with our training.
“We stick to the basics, we feel how the body is and then we execute. I think we are on the right track at the moment. We have done the build-up phase and now we transit into the speed and endurance.
“The team is doing a fantastic job right now. We are not in a rush, we are not under pressure, we know what we are doing. We are feeling good, man. We are ready to rumble.
“As an athlete you want to compete in the big championships and the Commonwealth Games is one that has been missing. We South Africans take the Commonwealth Games very seriously. It’s one step away from the Olympics.”
These Commonwealth Games for me are everything. They are do or die. You never know what is going to happen in the future.”
Semenya called the 1,500m the “thou-five”. Should she succeed in her attempt at the double, she will become one of an elite field of women to have done so.
Kelly Holmes did the 800m and 1,500m double at the Athens Olympics, one of just three women to have done so.
Holmes beat Semenya’s former coach, Maria Mutola, in the 800m on that warm night in Athens.
“It’s not that difficult to double up because they are alike. The difference is just one-and-a-half laps, so, it’s not that difficult,” she laughed.
“It takes a lot of preparation. It’s a normal race, it depends on how you run it, how you set up.
“It’s not going to be easy at the Games because I am going to be doing the thou-five first. I need to maintain speed, run even splits, but I have fun when I run the thou-five.
“The challenge is when you are reaching your last 600m-700m, when the ladies start to stretch it out. It’s a little different from the 800m tempo, but I like challenges, I’ve signed up for it, so I’m in, I’m never out.”
On Monday night, at the welcoming party for the awards, Semenya was approached by Edwin Moses, the 400m hurdles legend and former chairman of the Laureus foundation.
He had had harsh words for the IAAF and how they had handled the controversy and hysteria that has hounded her for nine years since the World Championships in Berlin in 2009, saying they had failed her.
Semenya is no longer that 18-year-old girl, bashed around by an organisation and a media that had no idea of how to deal with the issue of her physiology.
She has learnt to, though.
“It comes through education. I am a human. There are emotions. I studied psychology, I studied human physiology. I know how to treat my emotions.
“Of course, as athletes, we know there are people with criticisms, people who want to undermine and judge. I can’t let that sit on my mind. My main focus is to be a great athlete. How I see life is different, how I change the lives of kids. When I look back I want to have been a great example to others.
“Obviously, if you try to destroy me, I have to find a way to stay on track. If someone comes with negativity, I have to change it to positivity. It’s quite simple for me. I believe I have been put on this world for a reason.”
That reason is as simple as her words. That reason is to show what is possible.