To run with prejudice

2009-08-25 17:03

AS the hours ticked by on Wednesday and the whole world seemingly focused on

the women’s 800m race due to start at 9.35pm at the IAAF World Championships in

Berlin, the subject of the intense speculation and rumour had shut herself off

from all that with just gospel music for company.

“I never read newspapers, listen to news on the radio or watch television

ahead of a big event. I keep my earphones plugged in and listen to gospel

music,” said South Africa’s newest heroine, Caster Semenya, in a telephone

interview with City Press from the athletes’ village in Berlin on Friday.

“My favourite song is Segopole Boikgantsho Bjaka (by Oleseng Shuping) and I

kept on playing it on Wednesday. Every time it played I got pumped up and grew

even more confident.”

Asked about her race tactics, Semenya said she always shuts out all the other

athletes and imagines she is the only one on the track.

“You cannot win a race if you are going to start worrying that, ‘Oh, my God!

I am running against Kenyans or Ethiopians’,” she said.

The tactic worked. She went on to power to the finish line a clear 10m ahead

of her nearest competitor.

“As soon as I hit the home straight I knew I was a world champion, but when I

crossed the finish line I coudn’t believe it,” Semenya gushed.

“I’ve always known that one day I would be a world champion but I didn’t

believe it would come this soon. I still can’t believe it, man,” she


The athlete attributed her achievement to hard work, determination and the

ability to remain focused under difficult circumstances.

While it is a norm that top athletes stick to a certain diet, Semenya doesn’t

have one. She says she only ensures that she eats a lot of carbohydrates and


A first-year sports science student at the University of Pretoria, she trains

twice a day, five days a week.

“My first sessions are always at 5am and I train for an hour. The afternoon

session runs between 4pm and 6pm,” she said.

On the way forward she said this would be determined by her and her coach

after their arrival home.

The athlete returns on Tuesday with the rest of Team SA.

Semenya concurred with what her 80-year-old grandmother, Maphuthi Sekgala,

said earlier in the week: that she grew up being teased by other children about

her gender and this had helped her develop a very strong character.

“I grew up with my cousins and they were all boys. So I used to play soccer

with them and they would kick me to pieces,” she said.

“The constant teasing by other children turned me into a bully.

“I would hit the other children hard. They soon learned not to mess with


Semenya, who was born on January 7 1991, is sitting pretty on top of the

world following her time of 1:55:45, which was an improvement on her 1:56:72

feat at last month’s Junior World Championships in Mauritius.

It seems only a matter of time before she cracks the world record of 1:53:28,

which has been standing for 26 years.

South Africa is proud of you, girl.

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