Caster Semenya won her first race today in a triumphant return to international competition after an 11-month gender controversy. She won the 800 meters at the Lappeenranta Games in Finland with a time of 2:04.22.
The International Association of Athletics Federations last week cleared the 19-year old South African track star to compete as a women after undergoing further gender testing. Semenya sparked controversy last fall after she won gold in the 800 meters at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, as I chronicled in The Decade’s Worst Moments in Running.
When rumors began to fly last summer that Semenya was actually a man competing as a woman, an international brouhaha ensued. Her win in Berlin only made matters worse. Semenya’s build and dramatic two-second victory—in an event that is usually won by fractions of a second—started an imbroglio in the 11 months that followed. A subsequently leaked gender test fuelled speculation that she was a hermaphrodite with heightened testosterone levels three times the average woman. The IAAF launched a panel to investigate the matter and Semenya was banned from competition—until now. The IAAF is keeping the results of the tests confidential.
“I am thrilled to enter the global athletics arena once again and look forward to competing with all the disputes behind me,” Semenya said in a statement.
Her winning time was off pace from her 1:55.45 at the World Championships. Her next race is on Sunday at the Lapinlahti Games, also in Finland. (Semenya’s manager, Jukka Harkonen, is Finnish.) She hopes to be back in full form for the Commonwealth games in India in October.
Karla Bruning is an award-winning journalist and running nerd. She has completed three marathons, trains with the New York Harriers and is a member of New York Road Runners. Follow Karla’s “Notes From a Running Nerd” at RunKarlaRun.com, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning.
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