Even though she has been taken out of the equation, Caster Semenya expects the South African track and field team to be on the podium at the IAAF World Championships in Qatar next month.
The 28-year-old finds herself again out in the cold due to her long-running legal battle with the world athletics governing body, the IAAF, over a controversial rule that compels athletes with naturally high levels of testosterone to take hormone-suppressing medication to compete in international events.
On paper, South Africa’s medal prospects in Doha look rather slim as Wayde van Niekerk still hasn’t proven his fitness.
However, Semenya was adamant that her fellow accomplished national team-mates, including sprinter Akani Simbine, long jumpers Luvo Manyonga and Ruswahl Samaai, hurdler Antonio Alkana and the “shotput guys”, were capable of reaching the finals in their respective events.
“We can’t say two medals are gone because we have a very strong team. We can never predict the World Championship, so I think everyone is a strong contender there,” Semenya told City Press this week.
“We still have Luvo, Akani, Ruswahl and the shotput guys, and we still have the marathon guys. So you can never really tell, especially with the weather conditions in Doha, which are extremely hot.
“These are the guys who have previously won medals and we expect them to do more,” said Semenya, whose 800m gold and 1 500m bronze medals contributed to the team’s total haul of six gongs at the same championships in London two years ago.
“I might have mentioned that I expect these guys to be in the final, but anything can happen. Everyone I have mentioned stands a chance of making it.”
The Doha championships will be only the second time Semenya has missed a global track competition since her international senior debut in 2009.
On another occasion, she failed in her last-ditch attempt to qualify for the 2013 event in Russia as she had just recovered from a long-term knee injury.
Semenya was part of an extended preliminary squad of 40 athletes announced by Athletics SA (ASA) in June as she had already met the selection criteria for the Doha competition.
Her inclusion in the final team was going to be subject to the outcome of a pending appeal against the IAAF’s ruling at the Swiss Supreme Court.
The Lausanne-based sports tribunal’s decision – to reverse prior rulings that had temporarily suspended the IAAF’s regulations pending the outcome of Semenya’s appeal against the Court of Arbitration for Sport – subsequently ruled her out and, in the process, weakened South Africa’s chances in women’s events in Qatar.
Semenya and javelin specialist Sunette Viljoen are the only woman athletes to have delivered medals for the country in the past decade.
“There is a lot to be done within the federation [ASA] itself. Especially when it comes to developing young woman athletes,” said Semenya.
“If you look at the structure at the moment, it is very different compared with 2009. Back then, there were camps for young aspiring athletes – they were assisted. In my opinion, it was better then. But now it seems like it is every woman for herself.
“So I feel we have to go back to the drawing board. We as women still need more woman coaches to do better and be at the forefront of developing young aspiring athletes.”
Earlier this week, Semenya was a keynote speaker at the Standard Bank Top Women’s Conference in Johannesburg.
On Wednesday, she addressed an audience that comprised top businesswomen, detailing her life as a young girl, as well as her battles with the IAAF.
“Before I even won a world title, there were already a lot of questions. I could feel that something was off. I started being examined and questioned, and I got told that I might not run. And I remember saying: ‘Whoever is going to try to stop me from running has to drag me off the track.’
“And they said it was not in their control. My response was: ‘Well, I am in control because I am the architect of my career. I built my career. I am the engineer of what I do with my life.’ I was still 18 at the time.
“I am targeted because I am undefeated. My parents raised me well – they never questioned what I do or how I see things differently. They accepted me for who I am, and my childhood is one of the reasons I am tough, fearless and don’t care about what other people think,” she said.
Semenya also told the audience how the boys she used to play football with as a child “kept on asking if I was really a girl”.
“So, one day, I walked around the changing room naked to clarify because they feared the fact that I could do things they could not do,” she said.
Team SA hopefuls have until September 6 to achieve all the required entry standards to be included in the final team.
The Championship runs from September 27 to October 6.