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LRC's Berlin Coverage 2009: Women's 800
Caster Semenya Crushes Field in 800  Meter Final But Is She "Entirely" Female?

By LetsRun.com
August 18, 2009
Berlin, Germany

August 19, 2009 - For the second straight year, the women's 800 was run in runaway fashion in the mid 1:50s by an 18-year-old from Africa. And for the 2nd straight year, the victory is garnering big headlines. But the headlines in 2009 are way bigger than in 2008.

12th IAAF World Athletics Championships - Day Five
Entirely Female?

Last year, Kenya's Pamela Jelimo became Kenya's first female Olympic gold medallist - a fact noted in sports sections across the globe. But this year, the winner of the 800 is garnering headlines on the main sections of papers/websites across the world - yahoo.com, drudgereport.com, espn.com, etc. Good Morning America has even contacted LetsRun.com about using our interviews of the winner Caster Semenya on their show on Wednesday morning.

Why all  the fuss over Caster Semenya's 1:55.45 when Pamela Jelimo ran 1:54.87 last year in Beijing? Well, because there is questions as to whether Semenya is female.

But while the mainstream media is asking whether Semenya is female, a better way of understanding the controversy is to ask, as Ross Tucker of the Science Of Sport has, Is she "entirely female? since she may possess secondary male characteristics as a result of some condition, reported as hermaphroditism."

The Race Itself
The race istelf was anti-climatic as many expected it to be. 2007 world champion Janeth Jepkosgei took out the first 200 hard (26.81), with Semenya following on her right shoulder. After the first lap (56.83), Semenya was in the lead and was followed closely by Jepkosgei and Ukranian Yuliya Krevsun, who would move into 2nd by 600. The 3rd 200 was actually the slowest 200 of the race for Semenya, as she hit the 3/4th mark in 1:26.96.

With 200 to go, Krevsun was still close behind in 2nd with Jepkosgei right behind her in 3rd. But around the 630 mark, Semenya started to pull away, and if not for the concerns of her sex, the final 170 would have been a thing of beauty, as she absolutely crushed the field - her lead widening with every step. With 120 to go, Semenya looked over her shoulder, but that was totally unnecessary as her lead would only grow, as she won by almost two-and-a-half full seconds thanks to her 1:55.45.


The battle for second was quite a battle. Krevsun maintained her #2 position all the way down the homestretch before being passed by Jepkosgei in the final 10 meters. Amazingly enough, Krevsun ended up totally out of the medals, as Brit Jenny Meadows did exactly what we said she'd do after the semifnals - charge hard for a medal. Meadows, who was just 6th entering the final 100, was charging unbelievably fast all the way out in lane four. Literally in the final meter, Meadows caught Krevsun for the bronze and if the race had been one meter longer, she would have had the silver as Jepkosgei was clocked in 1:57.90 to Meadows 1:57.93 to Krevsun's 1:58.00.

An epic battle for sure for the final two medals. Krevsun undoubtedly is feeling great heartbreak as she went from silver to nothing in 10 meters, although if Semenya is later disqualified for not being entirely female, Krevsun will obviously be moved up to bronze.

Pierre Weiss Post-Race
Comments On Caster Semenya

Entirely Female?
For a few weeks now, there have been rumors as to the whether Semenya was entirely female, but things didn't come to a boil until the last few days, when a few mainstream media outlets printed a few pieces on the matter. Once someone besides LetsRun.com had mentioned it, things exploded.

After the race, the General Secretary of the IAAF, Pierre Weiss, spoke at the post-race press conference instead of Semenya. Weiss' comments were in our mind quite good and you can see them in their entirety on the video on the left.

Weiss said that there currently two investigations going on - one in Berlin and one in South Africa - into whether Semenya should be allowed to compete as a woman. "There is doubt about the fact that this person is a lady," said Weiss. "All of the doctors we have contacted have told us that this type of investigation takes days and even weeks before it can come to a conclusion."

As both Mr. Weiss and Ross Tucker have pointed out, gender tests are incredibly complex as "'private parts' do not alone constitute male or female." For a more in-depth explanation of the complexity of it all, please see Mr. Tucker's post on Semenya.
LRC Message board thread on Semenya here

Mr. Weiss also thoughtfully explained to the media why Semenya wasn't brought in the post-race media area.

"She's young. She's a junior - she's 19 years old," said Weiss, although in reality, Semenya is just 18. "It's obvious to us and it ought to be obvious for you as well that she's not prepared  to reply to the questions which you are totally entitled to ask. That's why we prefer to not bring the kid here."

"Today there is no proof (that she's not female) and the benefit of doubt must always be with the athlete."

One final thing worth noting, as IAAF spokesman Nick Davies noted to Espn.com, is that the whole controversy surrounding Semenya is "a medical issue, not an issue of cheating."

Semenya has never tried to hide her gender. She believes herself to female and therefore competed as such.


1 4 772 Caster Semenya RSA 1:55.45 (WL)
2 7 589 Janeth Jepkosgei Busienei KEN 1:57.90 (SB)
3 5 403 Jennifer Meadows GBR 1:57.93 (PB)
4 3 935 Yuliya Krevsun UKR 1:58.00 (SB)
5 6 824 Mariya Savinova RUS 1:58.68
6 8 503 Elisa Cusma Piccione ITA 1:58.81 (SB)
7 2 309 Mayte Martínez ESP 1:58.81 (SB)
8 1 392 Marilyn Okoro GBR 2:00.32

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