Olympics 2012

Hard times toughen Semenya

2012-07-27 16:31
Caster Semenya (Gallo Images)

London - Caster Semenya says the gender testing debacle that dogged her early international career has made her stronger for challenges such as the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Semenya was speaking ahead of the opening ceremony where she will lead out the South African team as the flag bearer.

"I am not going to worry about these gender things, I’m just going to concentrate on my future and look forward," Semenya said.

She added that it was a great privilege to carry the South African flag, an honour she did not expect to befall upon her.

"It is quite exciting and, for me, when I look back at my career, I didn’t think I was going to make it to the Olympics," she said.

"Today, I am here and now it is my responsibility to lead the team to the glory we hope for - those 12 medals as we mentioned, but I hope we can double that."

Semenya was selected to carry the flag ahead of double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius and Khotso Mokoena, South Africa's only medallist at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Pistorius will make history in the English capital where he will become the first amputee to compete on the track in the able-bodied Olympic Games.

Another amputee, open water swimmer Natalie du Toit, was the first woman to carry South Africa's flag when she was chosen to lead the team around the track at the opening ceremony in Beijing.

Marathon runner Jan Tau was South Africa's flag bearer when the country returned from isolation at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.

He was succeeded by boxer Masibulele Makepula (Atlanta 1996), and middle-distance runners Hezekiel Sepeng (Sydney 2000) and Mbulaeni Mulaudzi (Athens 2004).

Semenya, who was cleared to run in 2010 after an 11-month gender controversy, said she had a difficult build-up to the Games.

She was, however, ready to take on the world when she lines up in the women’s 800m heat at Olympic Stadium on August 8.

"I had a rough season this year, I changed coaches and started from the beginning," Semenya said about Olympic gold medallist Maria Mutola replacing her former coach Michael Seme.

"It hasn’t been easy for me to adapt to the training but we are getting there.

"I just have to put my spikes on and do my best."

Semenya added that while her times this year had been under-par, she had been not particularly worried about it ahead of the Games.

"I am not upset with my performances, I know where I am coming from, so build-up wise I’m okay.

"I'm not going to worry about those times.

"It is a matter of running a good championship and sometimes it doesn’t matter if you run good times or not, it is about how you handle the championships."

The 21-year-old’s demeanour is in stark contrast to the shy girl who won the gold medal at the World Championships three years ago.

She admitted to have done a fair bit of growing up since she was shoved into the prying eyes of the world media in 2008.

Semenya will be competing against one of the strongest 800m field in years with Olympic champion Pamelo Jelimo from Kenya and world champion, Mariya Savinova of Russia, being her greatest threats.

She will also be challenged by Ethiopia's Fantu Magiso and Alysia Montano from the US, all of whom have run times below one minute, 58 seconds this season.

The South African's best time this season is a pedestrian 1:59.18, which is only the 21st fastest in the world this year.

Semenya, however, said she was up for the challenge and would only focus on running her own race.

"I am not scared and I concentrate more on my own race than anybody else's," she said.

"This is a huge step and it depends how you present yourself to the world."

Read more on:    olympics 2012  |  caster semenya
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