After World Cup, runner Semenya is South Africa’s hopeJuly 12th, 2010 - 6:59 pm ICT by IANS
By Abhishek Roy
Pretoria, July 12 (IANS) Now that World Cup football is over, it is champion middle-distance runner Caster Semenya who will be the cynosure of the sports loving South African.
Semenya,19, became a household name in South Africa when she won the women’s 800m World Championship title in Berlin in August last year. But soon doubts rose over her gender. What followed was relentless scrutiny and media reports, ruthlessly debating the teenager’s sex.
Even as she was asked to take a gender test, the country stood firmly behind her, so much so that the South African sports minister Makhenkesi Stofile warned of a “third world war” if the row over her gender bars her from competing.
It was a victory of sorts for South Africa when International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) cleared her last week, putting an end to an 11-month stalemate.
On Saturday, Semenya was back to training at the High Performance Centre at the University of Pretoria in front of a small crowd. The media was not around this time - busy as it was with the World Cup - and Semenya maintained a low profile.
She appeared relaxed as she trained with a group of young athletes on a grass track, laughing and joking with fellow runners as they went through their routine of stretches and warm-up exercises.
Wearing a bright pink top, Semenya ran alongside other athletes in a series of 200m drills before ending with a light jog around the track.
While Semenya refused to speak to the press, her Finnish manager Jukka Harkonen said that the athlete is ready to make her comeback at the Lappeenranta Games in Finland next week.
“She is really looking forward to the competition but is not expecting anything great. She’s in the middle of her training right now, but needs the experience of competing again,” Harkonen said.
A few days back the same venue at the University of Pretoria was swarming with some thousand of journalists from all over the world. After all it was the training base for Diego Maradona’s Argentina.
“For the past few days our university has been buzzing with activities. First it was the Argentine team and now Semenya. She is an inspiration for us. She has struggled to become a world champion and that should be respected,” Fraser Blackwill, a student and a trainee athlete, told IANS.
(Abhishek Roy can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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Tags: 800m, abhishek, caster, cynosure, fellow runners, gender test, grass track, high performance centre, household name, iaaf, international association of athletics federations, low profile, middle distance, south african sports, stalemate, third world war, university of pretoria, warm up exercises, world cup football, young athletes