Caster Semenya: South African Intersex Athlete Causes Controversy At Rio Olympics

Caster Semenya is the odds-on favorite to capture the gold in the women’s 800-meter race in the 2016 Rio Olympics. But the questions about her true gender continues, even in whispers that reverberate around the athletes’ village.

It doesn’t help, of course, that the 25-year-old is dominating the middle-distance race.

Back when she won over Russian Mariya Savinova in the 2009 World Championships, the latter voiced out what everybody else was thinking: she probably has too much testosterone in her.

But the insinuations didn’t stop there. According to Yahoo, Paula Radcliffe — already a legend in her own right in women’s marathon — suggested that Caster Semenya winning the gold in Rio Olympics would be a disgrace to the sport.

She said a victory by the South African in middle-distance running would trigger a feeding frenzy among the other countries to scour for female athletes with high level of testosterone.

This, despite several studies that higher levels of testosterone will allow a female athlete to perform better. Even the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has admitted that they have no substantial study to prove that elevated testosterone will give a woman an undue advantage in competition.

Myron Genel, Yale senior research scientist, described the criticisms leveled against Caster Semenya as “unfair.”

“There are a number of athletes who have at one time or another been in the spotlight because they have excelled and have had one or another disorder that’s related to sexual development,” the scientist said. “It’s hard to say that is the only reason why they excelled.”

Local South African celebrities also committed their support for Caster Semenya over the criticisms of her very masculine features.

Xhosa singer Simphiwe Dana said that South Africans should rally behind the athlete in order to ward off her bullies.

South African talk show host Lerato Kganyago also offered words of encouragement to the athlete not to let all the bullying get in her way of greatness.

An online petition posted by People Against Racist Bullies demanded that Paula Radcliffe’s sponsors pressure her into making a public apology over her comments against Caster Semenya.

“We call on you, Paula Radcliffe’s sponsors, publishers and business partners, to demand Radcliffe makes a public statement apologising to Caster Semenya,” the petition said. “Radcliffe should know better than anyone, that if the IAAF clears you to compete, that’s the end of the story. Finish and klaar.”

The controversy surrounding Caster Semenya started when the world started to take notice of her abilities on the track. Back in 2009, an article from the Daily Telegraph quoted a test supposedly conducted in Berlin where it was discovered that the athlete was a hermaphrodite.

Apparently, even if she identifies herself as a female, she has three times the normal amount of testosterone compared to her peers. The results of the examination also revealed that the runner has testes, the organ which produces testosterone. She also has no womb or ovaries.

Christopher Tollefsen, a University of California professor of philosophy, told the OC Register that Caster Semenya should be allowed to test her mettle against the other women athletes in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

He said that even if she has higher levels of testosterone, she didn’t do anything against the rules to gain an advantage. As he puts it, “Other athletes have their own natural advantages. She should not be penalized for hers.”

Heading into the competition, nobody really doubts that Caster Semenya will go home with the gold. At this point, it’s a matter of whether she will break the world record set in 1983 by Jarmila Kratochvilova. At that time, the Czech clocked in at 1:53.28.

As for Caster Semenya, she doesn’t seem to let the criticism affect her, as she’s focused on making her imprint on the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“I am dreamer,” she said. “What I dream of is to become Olympic champion, world champion, and world-record holder.”

[Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images]