One of South Africa’s most decorated female athletes, South African track star Caster Semenya has been the victim of rigid gender stereotypes for too long. As a result, her victories and accomplishments are often shrouded in controversy. But despite all the hardships, Semenya remains focused.

South African middle-distance athlete, Caster Semenya, made headlines this year, and this time, it’s for the right reasons. In a record-breaking 1 minute and 55.28 seconds, she took gold when crossing the finish line in the 800m final at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Caster’s life had been vilified since 2009 when she won gold in the 800m during the World Championship in Berlin, drastically improving her time and prompting rumours and questions about her gender.

Limpopo-born Semenya became one of the most talked-about track and field athletes and every news agency in the world placed her under the microscope.

Although the then-18-year old won an 800m World Championship, her victory was overshadowed when she was forced to take a humiliating physical test. The results claimed she had hyperandrogenism, meaning higher levels of testosterone, which raised questions as to whether she had an “unfair” advantage over her competitors.

Semenya was suspended from competition, until eleven months later in Finland, she was finally allowed to make her return. The number of questions, accusations and tests would have made a lesser athlete hang up their boots. But Caster only worked harder, ran faster and faced the detractors head-on.

Life goes on for Semenya, who now 25 years old, got hitched to fellow female athlete Violet Raseboya in 2015 and they now live in Pretoria where Semenya balances life and studies in sports science at the University of Pretoria.

More recently, Semenya was upgraded to gold after Mariya Savinova was stripped of her 800m title at the 2012 London Olympic Games after being found guilty of doping.

Despite all the adversity and hurdles in her career, Semenya has managed to still come out on top through hard work, dedication and determination.

Semenya’s story has resonated with many people from all walks of life. Her Olympic glory is for everyone and anyone who has ever faced discrimination.

“It’s about loving one another,” Semenya said at the press conference following her victory in Rio. “It’s not about discrimination or looking at people in terms of how they look, how they speak and how they run. It’s not about being masculine. It’s about sports.”

She continued, “When you leave your apartment, you don’t want to look at what you look like. You just want to do better. The message to people out there is to have fun and see what you can achieve. That’s what I want to say,” Semenya said.

The world is a unique, diverse place. Semenya reminds us that we all have a place in it.

FIVE facts about Caster Semenya

  • She’s focused on her studies. She’s eager to complete her degree from the University of Pretoria where she’s currently studying Sports Science.
  • She only began running to supplement her football training.
  • The 800 m isn’t her favourite race. Her true love is actually the 1 500 m – or the ‘one thou five’ as she calls it.
  • Semenya’s lifelong idol is the Olympic and three-time 800 m world champion Maria Mutola from Mozambique whose gender was also often brought into question.
  • Her favourite food? Pap and vleis. She prefers juice and water to fizzy cooldrinks and she doesn’t drink alcohol.
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