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“I Am Mokgadi Caster Semenya. I Am a Woman, and I Am Fast.”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2019

Caster Semenya

For Out magazine, Michelle Garcia profiles track star Caster Semenya.

Immediately after that mind-blowing 800-meter final at the 2009 World Championships, some of Semenya’s fellow competitors went for the jugular. Italy’s Elisa Cusma Piccione (sixth place) insisted she was a man. Russia’s Mariya Savinova (fifth place) urged journalists to “just look at her.” Other athletes whispered, stared, and laughed at her. Then came the IAAF.

Initially, the questions about her drastic improvement were linked to suspicions of doping. When those tests came back negative, she was subjected to rounds of gender testing, reportedly involving analysis by an endocrinologist, a psychologist, a gender expert, an internist; most humiliating was a gynecological exam that included photographing her genitals while her feet were in stirrups. Eventually she was cleared to compete on the international circuit again but not before she missed nearly a year of competition during the IAAF’s deliberation over her test results.

The dirty secret here is that gender testing is common for women athletes — and yes, only women athletes.

I get why this is happening to Semenya — sexism, racism, bureaucracy — but it’s just so fucking ridiculous. Fundamentally, elite athletes are physically and mentally gifted outliers. Like, that’s the definition. They are amazing & marvelous freaks of nature. Their minds and muscles and chemicals and limbs are just hooked up differently from the rest of us. But you didn’t see Michael Phelps being sanctioned for his long arms, Usain Bolt for his height, Bjørn Dæhlie for his VO2 Max, or any number of championship male athletes for their abundant natural testosterone. Semenya is essentially being banned for being better than everyone else…as if that isn’t the goal of athletics.

See also Ariel Levy’s 2009 New Yorker profile of Semenya.