Johannesburg - The decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport to ban Russia’s Mariya Savinova-Farnosova for four years and strip her of her 2012 Olympic gold medal means South African 800m runner Caster Semenya is in line to become SA’s greatest athlete.
The retrospective sanctioning of Savinova-Farnosova for doping under Russia’s infamous state-sponsored doping programme will see Semenya, who finished second to Savinova-Farnosova in London while still coached by Michael Seme, belatedly upgraded to gold.
Semenya, who won gold at the Rio Olympics last year, will now become a double Olympic 800m champion.
But the more curious detail is that with the Lausanne-based independent institution having tracked Savinova-Farnosova’s doping from 2010 to 2013 and her results from those years disqualified, Semenya could be in line for another gold medal, having been pipped to the line by the Russian at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, South Korea.
If that is the case, her current coach, Jean Verster, says his athlete could become South Africa’s greatest athlete overnight at the age of just 26.
“We’re waiting to hear about that [whether the 2011 World Championships result will also be bumped up], but it might mean another gold there,” he said.
“She could be a double Olympic champion and a double world champion, which would make her our greatest athlete.
“That would make for quite a remarkable career, given that she’s still got some way to go.”
Claim anything now
Asked how he and his athlete felt about the delayed honour, Verster stopped short of calling it an anticlimax: “I spoke to her and we both agree – it’s not the same. We weren’t there on the podium and there was no national anthem [in 2012 and 2011], so it’s kind of water under the bridge for us.
“It’s not the same feeling as it was in the Rio Olympics last year. It is nice to know that they are catching the cheats five years down the line, though, but it’s nothing to get excited about for us.”
On whether the belated gold medal could mean a delayed windfall from Semenya’s sponsors, who usually have incentives based on the colour of the medal won by the athlete, Verster said they were not expecting anything.
“I spoke to her manager Jukka [Härkönen] and he said, unfortunately, with sponsors, we cannot go back and claim anything now.
“I haven’t heard from the government or the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, but we are not holding our breath because budgets would have been drawn for that time and it would be difficult to go back.”
Verster said it was comforting to know that dopers could be caught so long after cheating.
“It’s good to know that even if you cheat, many years down the line you can get caught.
“I hope that acts as a deterrent for the cheats out there.”