|Going for gold tonight: Caster Semenya|
Caster Semenya will bring South Africa to a halt tonight, just as Chad Le Clos did a week ago in the swimming pool. And, just like her butterflying compatriot, Semenya is EXPECTED to win gold over 800m at the Olympic Stadium in London.
That we should put that kind of pressure on a woman who has been through so much is both unfair and typical of this rainbow nation, where so much is expected by so many from so few in the sporting world.
But the lass from Limpopo herself appears unfazed. Just this morning, after an emphatic semi-final win of 1:57.67 on Thursday night, we read: “I was a bit nervous but this British crowd makes me feel at home and reminds me of good memories. I have to stretch out on the last 100m.
“It’s about putting on the spikes and just running. The time I ran makes me very confident. It’s about running your own race, you have to think of yourself and about yourself. You have to run a good time to get into the final and that’s what I did. I'm happy with that.
“Sometimes, if you want to run a good race, you have to forget about everybody, just think about your own race because it can disturb you.”
If there are any gods left on Mount Olympus, Caster – the fastest qualifier for tonight’s final – will see off reigning Olympic champion Pamela Jelimo of Kenya and dangerous Russian Elena Arzhakova who have both been in far better form than South Africa’s favourite athlete in the build-up to London 2012.
The complex story of Mokgadi Caster Semenya is perhaps summed up best by the girl from Ga-Masehlong herself. She says: "God made me the way I am and I accept myself."
Most South Africans, having seen the pain she went through at close quarters, would agree with that statement. So many foreign watchers are only too keen to ignore the subtlety of such self-examination.
It was when Semenya exploded on the world stage at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, with a scorching time of 1:55.45, that Caster became a household name… and her life was ruthlessly picked apart.
With nobody to protect her, with the world’s media desperately seeking lurid details, somebody leaked the news that Caster Semenya had been subjected to gender testing just THREE HOURS before the World Championship final.
Lamine Diack, the IAAF president, admitted to a “leak of confidentiality” and insisted his organisation had been “obliged to investigate” because Caster had improved by 25 seconds at 1500m and eight seconds at 800 m "the sort of dramatic breakthroughs that usually arouse suspicion of drug use."
As international anger at Caster’s exposure grew, the IAAF denied racism and claimed the test was not about suspected cheating but to discover is she was suffering from “a rare medical condition". Though the IAAF later apologised and let Caster keep her medal and prize money, Wilfred Daniels, Semenya's coach, resigned saying Athletics South Africa (ASA) "did not advise Ms Semenya properly". Then, in September 2009, ASA President Leonard Chuene admitted he too had subjected Semenya to gender checks, but hadn’t explained the true purpose of the tests to the runner.
With no scientific investigation, no real justification, Caster was withdrawn from international competition until 6 July 2010 – and only then did the IAAF clear her to return to competition with no cogent explanation for the ordeal she had been forced to go through.
Her parents and grandparents in Fairlie near Polokwane were subjected to endless questioning about her teen years as “a tomboy”, her headmaster at Nthema Secondary School was pounced on when he admitted she had worn trousers rather than a skirt in grade 11. All this was seen as evidence of something that rigorous science had emphatically disproved.
Semenya returned to take silver at the 2011 World Championships and has been working at the Pretoria University High Performance Centre – which produced world-record breaking breast-stroke golden boy Cameron van der Burgh and the Oarsome Foursome – to put herself back on top of the world of two-lap running.
Tonight we will see the results of that effort. And find out just how strong Caster Semenya is. Let nobody raise the issue of gender if Semenya is crowned the world’s 800m queen again tonight.