South African teenager Caster Semenya shook off a gender test controversy to easily win the 800-metre gold medal at the World Championships.
Semenya’s dominating performance was all the more remarkable because it came the same day the IAAF announced that the 18-year-old runner was undergoing a gender verification test amid concerns she does not meet the requirements to compete as a woman.
Semenya took the lead at the halfway mark and opened up a commanding lead on the field in the last 400 meters to win in a world leading 1 minute, 55.45 seconds.
Defending champion Janeth Jepkosgei was second, a massive 2.45 seconds behind. Jennifer Meadows of Britain took bronze in 1:57.93.
About three weeks ago, the IAAF asked the South African athletics federation to conduct the test after Semenya burst onto the scene by posting a world leading time of 1:56.72 at the African junior championships in Bambous, Maruitius.
The teenager’s stunning improvement in times, along with her muscular build and deep voice, sparked speculation about her gender.
Before the race, IAAF spokesman Nick Davies stressed that “it’s a medical issue, not an issue of cheating.”
He said the “extremely complex, difficult” test has been started but that the results were not expected for weeks.
The verification test requires a physical medical evaluation, and includes reports from a gynaecologist, endocrinologist, psychologist, an internal medicine specialist and an expert on gender.
“So we’re talking about reports that are very long, very time consuming,” Davies said.
South Africa team manager Phiwe Mlangeni-Tsholetsane would not confirm or deny that Semenya was having a gender test, but said “there was no cheating on our part.”
“We entered Caster as a woman and we want to keep it that way,” Mlangeni-Tsholetsane said. “Our conscience is clear in terms of Caster. We have no reservations at all about that.”
Although medals will be awarded for the 800, the race remains under a cloud until the investigation is closed, and Semenya could be stripped of the gold depending on the test results, IAAF general secretary Pierre Weiss said.
“If at the end of the investigation it is proven that the athlete is not female, we will withdraw the medal,” Weiss said. “But today there is no proof and the benefit of doubt must always be in favour of the athlete.”