Athletics

The straight dope with Caster Semenya

Caster Semenya (Getty Images)
Caster Semenya (Getty Images)

What is your take on doping? 

It is good for the sport that athletes get tested. They used to draw two samples, but they took four this time – it’s okay because I know I’m clean. But if you are clean that is a waste of blood one could be donating to those who need it [laughs]. 

A lot followed since you won a gold medal in 2009, and you are back again in the spotlight of the world stage. 

People always talk, but I have put everything behind me now. What happened in 2009, 2011 and 2012 and [failing to qualify] for the Moscow championships is in the past. I’m focusing more on the future. As an athlete who has achieved such incredible medals at three championships in a row, I have to be consistent, and that’s what I’m trying to do now. I still have seven championships until 2020. 

Have you been following a story about India’s rising sprinter, Dutee Chand, who was subjected to a gender test and the Court of Arbitration for Sport last month lifted her ban by the IAAF to compete again? 

Not really. [My case] is in the past and I’m not even going to bother myself about it. Of course I’m going to be asked about it [by the media during the competition here in Beijing] but I’m not the IAAF spokesperson. I am focusing on my running. Such things are really disturbing if you put your mind to them. 

I’m one person who doesn’t care – I’m sorry to say that, but people talk, and I can’t concentrate on things that can’t benefit me. When you write stories, it’s your job, but respect counts. 

Your rivals at the 2009 World Championships criticised you the most. Did they ever apologise? 

They don’t need to apologise because we don’t really need to go back there [to 2009]. 

I’m not going to focus on criticism from other people. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. 

At the end of the day, we were not born the same. Everybody has his or her own physique and you cannot say someone looks like this or walks like that. 

People thought I came out of the blue before Berlin. I had already run two minutes in the [now defunct] Yellow Pages series and qualified two months before the [2009] SA Championships. My time broke the junior record. I didn’t have a coach then, and coach Sponge [Seme] became my first proper coach in February 2009. In the seven months with him, I ran 1:56 at the African Junior championships in Mauritius. The senior team management insisted that I was too young to go to the Berlin championships, but my coach and I were adamant that I go. That was the plan, to get the experience – and we won gold. 

As the final athlete to qualify for the Beijing championships, were you feeling any pressure? 

Not really. I know what I’m capable of. For me, recovering from injury was an achievement and qualifying was a bonus. 

What is your goal in Beijing? 

The goal is to get into the final. I’ll have to take it one step at a time and work my way through the heats and then the semifinals. 

Do you have a medal in your mind? 

I’m just here to have fun. I’m more like a beginner because I have just started from scratch. I’m not under pressure to win any medal – it’s one step at a time. Whatever happens in the final, I’ll take it. 

What really happened to your form after the London 2012 Olympics? 

I trained hard for the Olympics and was in good shape to run a new personal best of 1:54. We made mistakes – probably we trained too much instead of taking it easy in the weeks leading up to the Olympics. I felt a bit tired in the warm-up and during the race. People back home thought I didn’t want to run that night and if only they knew that I almost pulled out of the final because I felt so heavy in the race. I fought back to win a silver. 

Then [in 2013 and last year] it was more about battling injuries. I had to try to get the right people to help me with training and how to heal. I only got them now when I moved to Potch. I have a personal trainer in the gym, a physio and a chiropractor. It’s a great team and they helped me to run and overcome my knee injury. 

What will it take for you to get back to a sub-two-minute time? 

I have to go with the flow. A semifinal can get me to run under two minutes easily, because only a few athletes are [able to do that]. I don’t have to stress about other athletes who are [pursuing] times. 

You must be missing the Diamond League. What’s next for you after Beijing? 

If you are used to running with your rivals in the Diamond League, you’ll miss it – but my health comes first. I’m trying to break the two minutes early so that I can get invitations to big competitions again. To do that, I don’t want to over-race, but be fit again.

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