Caster Semenya named former Olympic and world 800—meter champion Maria Mutola as her new coach on Monday, pairing one of the world’s great middle—distance runners with one of athletics’ most promising youngsters.
Semenya said in a statement released to The Associated Press through her Finland—based agent Jukka Harkonen that Mutola agreed to coach the 20—year—old South African soon after the recent world championships in Daegu, South Korea where Semenya took silver in her 800—meter title defense.
The pair share similar backgrounds, with both emerging from impoverished backgrounds in southern Africa to win on the world stage after their talents had been identified at a young age.
“Maria has been my idol since I started to run,” Semenya said. “After Korea (the world championships) I was asking Maria if she is interested in coaching me. Her answer was positive and I am very happy now.
“Maria has had (a) long and super successful career. She will be a great teacher for me.”
Mutola of Mozambique, who turns 40 this week, retired in 2008 with an Olympic gold and three world titles in the 800. She also won seven world indoor titles between 1993 and 2006.
She has been playing semiprofessional football in South Africa since her retirement, but will now guide Semenya’s preparations for the 2012 London Olympics in her first formal role as a coach.
“This is a huge challenge for me to start with Caster,” Mutola said. “She is a great young athlete and already she has done very well. We still have a long road to go if we want to be the number one in London. Caster just needs to take the last steps to be a professional athlete.
“I want to use all my experience to help her to understand what it means to be on the top. It is much easier to get to the top than to stay there.”
Semenya thanked former coach Michael Seme, who discovered her and took her to an African junior title and then a shock victory as a teenager at the 2009 worlds in Berlin during which she became embroiled in a gender test controversy that led to an 11—month suspension from athletics.
Semenya was cleared to run again in July last year but was hampered by poor form and a niggling back injury for the next 12 months before finally showing glimpses of her ability again by winning silver in Daegu.
However, Semenya said her relationship with Seme had already broken down before her world title defense and she trained on her own for the final four weeks ahead of the worlds, with some help from Mutola.
“I want to thank Michael for his great job during the last three years with me. We have had a lot of success, but during this year, and especially the last few months, I have been thinking (of) my own career often,” Semenya said.
“I was preparing alone the last four weeks for Daegu and I met Maria Mutola before my flight to Korea. She was giving me great ideas.”
In an interview with the AP in 2010, Mutola revealed she had been contacted by Semenya for advice and on how to deal with the gender tests that interrupted her career.
Back then, Mutola also said Semenya’s 1 minute, 55.45—second winning time as an 18—year—old at the 2009 world championships was “amazing” and added there was “no doubt” the young South African was capable of breaking Jarmila Kratochvilova’s 800 world record time of 1-53.28, which was set in 1983.
Keywords: Caster Semenya