Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

South Africans give gender test Semenya a hero’s welcome home

Caster Semenya
Caster Semenya

Looking shy and awkward under the glare of media attention, South African runner Caster Semenya returned home to a rapturous welcome yesterday.

But the controversy over her femininity still raged, with South Africa's president vowing that he would not permit her gold medal to be taken away “no matter what gender tests say”.

She has been hounded since her 800m World Championships win with questions about her sex.

The president of Athletics South Africa, Leonard Chuene, was also defiant, saying he had resigned from his seat on the IAAF board to protest at the organisation's treatment of Semenya.

She is not overtly accused of trying to cheat, but of perhaps unknowingly having a medical condition that blurs her gender and gives her an unfair advantage.

“We are not going to allow Europeans to describe and define our children,” he told a news conference, which Semenya attended although she did not address reporters.

Semenya's victory in Berlin came after world athletics officials said they were conducting gender tests after questions arose about her muscular build and deep voice. South Africans have embraced her achievement despite the questions.

Semenya was greeted warmly at the airport in Johannesburg by several thousand singing and dancing fans.

The 18-year-old, dressed in her team tracksuit with her gold medal around her neck, was then brought to a stage set up in the carpark.

“Hi everybody,” Semenya greeted the roaring crowd of fans. Standing in a row with the other South African medalists, she gave a thumbs-up sign and waved to people in the crowd.

The smiling teenager also joined in with the dancing for a short while before being embraced by her younger siblings.

Semenya was also welcomed home by her parents and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the former wife of the country's first black president Nelson Mandela.

“We are here to tell the whole world how proud we are of our little girl,” Ms Madikizela-Mandela told the cheering crowd of fans. “They can write what they like — we are proud of her.”

Semenya's mother Dorcus, wearing a traditional headdress, stood beaming at her daughter. “She has lifted our hearts,” she said. “We feel powerful because of her.”

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