Resurrection of Caster Semenya

2015-03-29 15:00

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World champion regains confidence in ‘paradise’ – now sets sights on China

A leaner Caster Semenya says three months at her new base at the North-West University (NWU) in Potchefstroom have made a huge difference in her revival.

“I am a little bit leaner and grateful I am able to run again. I’m happy with my comeback and 4:30 is not a bad time,” Semenya told City Press. This was after clocking 4:30.12 to win the 1?500m race at last week’s Varsity Athletics meeting staged by the mining dorpie she now calls home – and a paradise.

“I lost about 5kg and I hope I will be [weighing] around 68kg by the end of the year. I weigh 70kg now,” she said.

She also pointed out her new hairstyle – a plaited mohawk – was another sign of new beginnings.

“It defines moving forward. As you see, it starts from the back. I am back to normal ways. This is a new beginning – new coach, new life and I am back at school. But we still have a lot of work to do,” she explained.

The 24-year-old is part of a group of athletes guided by renowned middle-distance coach Jean Verster at Pukke, as the Potchefstroom institution is commonly known.

There, Semenya trains with internationally acclaimed stars, including SA’s Commonwealth Games 800m bronze medallist André Olivier and Olympic 800m silver medallist Nijel Amos of Botswana.

“This is paradise for me, a quiet place with nothing much to do. It’s just training, eating, sleep and school. I am studying sports science because I took a break after 2009 to sort myself out [following a gender-verification debacle],” she said.

Semenya joined Pukke late last year after she ended her three-year partnership with coach Maria Mutola in November.

“I switched coaches twice in three years and this decision was hard for me to make. But I think it was the right choice to come this side [Potchefstroom],” she added.

Semenya secured fourth place in her first race of the season – in 56.92 – during the NWU Prestige track and field meeting in Sasolburg last week Thursday.

An 800m record holder with a time of 1:55.45, Semenya hit a career low last year with a season best time of 2:02.66.

Despite winning silver medals at the 2011 IAAF World Championships and 2012 London Olympics, she failed to qualify for the 2013 global championships in Russia and the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Scotland.

“It’s hard to miss the championships. I was sad,” she said.

With the Beijing World Championships in China about four months away, Semenya noted: “It would be lovely to qualify, but the main goal would be to reach the final.”

The 2009 world champion said her focus was to be in good shape to defend her 800m title at the SA Senior Track and Field Championships in Stellenbosch, Western Cape, next month.

“As the defending champion, the main goal is to go there and run closer to two minutes. I mean a 2:01 to 2:03 – those few seconds will make the difference,” Semenya said.

However, “at the moment we can’t talk about running closer to my fastest times”.

“I have just recovered from a knee injury, which was not easy to overcome.

“It’s all about getting into a better shape first. Also, it takes two years to adapt to a new programme,” she concluded.

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