Teenage South African sprinter Caster Semanya “came out of nowhere” to set records at the track and field world championships in Berlin this week. But everybody is waiting for the result of a “gender test” given three weeks ago to determine if Semanya is literally woman enough to compete in female events.
About three weeks ago, the international federation asked South African track and field authorities to conduct the verification test. Semenya had burst onto the scene by posting a world-leading time of 1:56.72 at the African junior championships in Maruitius. Her dramatic improvement in times, muscular build and deep voice sparked speculation about her gender. Ideally, any dispute surrounding an athlete is dealt with before a major competition. But Semenya’s stunning rise from unknown teenage runner to the favorite in the 800 happened almost overnight. That meant the gender test—which takes several weeks—could not be completed in time. Before the race, IAAF spokesman Nick Davies stressed this is a “medical issue, not an issue of cheating.” He said the “extremely complex” testing has begun. The process requires a physical medical evaluation and includes reports from a gynecologist, endocrinologist, psychologist, internal medicine specialist and gender expert. South Africa team manager Phiwe Mlangeni-Tsholetsane would not confirm or deny that Semenya was having such a test. “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.”
Semenya will receive her gold medal in Berlin, but will be stripped of her win if test results are not to the satisfaction of sport officials.