Caster's big decision

By admin
18 January 2010

If 2009 was the year of the Great Humiliation for Caster Semenya, 2010 could become the year of the Great Operation, which might save her life but could spell the end of her career as an international star athlete.

A critical decision lies ahead for the 19-year-old who amazed the world with her 800 m triumph in Berlin. Because, like Samson of old who lost his potency when his hair was cut, Caster could lose the source of her strength if she undergoes surgery to remove her internal testes.

Whether she indeed has testes is unconfirmed. Since she underwent gender-testing, following questions about her Berlin performance, the international athletics body IAAF has refused publicly to confirm or deny that she has internal testes.

But a version of their report that has since come to light leaves little doubt she faces a tricky decision.

Apparently it has been found she’s intersexed because she has no womb or ovaries and her body makes three times more testosterone than that of other women. And the internal testes she was born with will have to be removed because of a cancer risk (YOU, 3 Sept 2009). The risk of internal testes becoming cancerous is up to 10 per cent greater than for normal testes.

The IAAF has been silent on whether Caster may continue to compete without the surgery and athletics supporters are keen to see if she’ll turn up at the first big athletics meeting of the year in Germiston on 22 January.

If she does could she again emerge victorious at the first international athletics meeting of the year on 12 March in Doha, Qatar?

The IAAF’s offer to pay for her medical treatment seems a cruel consolation prize if it means the end of her career.

Sports experts say without testes her testosterone levels will drop and it’s likely this male hormone is responsible for Caster’s advantage on the track.

Sports scientist Professor Tim Noakes believes you’re entering a minefield if you start discriminating against athletes whose inherent “abnormalities” give them an advantage.

Some athletes have a genetic advantage over others, such as Usain Bolt, the phenomenal Jamaican sprinter who holds the world records for the 100 m and 200 m. And what about Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps who has won 14 gold medals at the Olympics with his “unnaturally” long arms?

Noakes doesn’t believe Caster’s athletics career is over. “I believe Caster will eventually be allowed to carry on competing. But if she has to have an operation to remove internal testes she’ll very possibly no longer be as fast because of lower testosterone levels.”

But Caster’s athletic prowess is so exceptional she’ll remain a top achiever even without the boost of testosterone, says Dr Christa Janse van Vuuren, a sports medicine expert at the University of Pretoria.

See the full article on Caster’s future options in YOU, 14 January 2010.

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