It has been 13 years since Caster Semenya rocketed to prominence and infamy by winning the 800m world title in Berlin, and after bowing out in the opening round of the World Championships on Thursday, she now has a chance to step out the ring knowing she has given it back as hard as she got.
Semenya has been sidelined multiple times throughout her stop-start career, and based on current rules she cannot compete over distances ranging from 400m to the mile (1,609m) without taking hormone suppressants.
Therefore, despite securing three world titles and two Olympic gold medals in the 800m event, her mere participation at this week’s World Championships could well be remembered as her greatest victory.
For an athlete who holds the South African 400m, 800m and 1,500m records, qualifying for the 5,000m at the World Championships required a monumental effort.
Ironically, however, her result in the first round of the women’s 5,000m event also suggests her career is coming to a close after she battled through 12-and-a-half laps to trail home in 13th position in her heat.
Now that she’s been there, done that, 31-year-old Semenya will have to be left wondering what else she can do to play her part in a fight that is bigger than herself.
She has fought numerous court battles against World Athletics, but she has lost all of them, and though that doesn’t mean things will never change, one person can do only so much. If gender rules are going to be overturned, a new generation might have to pick up the baton she leaves behind.
But as her role as an athlete fades, we can take some solace in the likelihood that Semenya will stick around as a coach (she already has a large training group) and a potential administrator down the line.
A fighter who never gives up, with a firm head on her shoulders, athletics might not have been as good as it should have been to Semenya, but she has been good for the sport.
And with the value she continues to offer, let’s hope she feels more welcome in suites and stands than she was ever made to feel on the track.