Caster Semenya closed out her middle-distance season in style last night, bringing an end to an emotional week and potentially to a spectacular career.
But she doesn’t intend to go quietly.
Just five days before the International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) new gender regulations were set to come into effect, Semenya had the crowd on its feet at the Diamond League season opener in Doha last night.
Semenya stormed to victory in front of a rapturous crowd in the women’s 800m race, crossing the line in 1:54.98.
She finished nearly three seconds ahead of her nearest opponent, Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi, who was also reportedly affected by the new IAAF rules which restricted athletes with Differences of Sexual Development (DSD).
But, when asked if she would take drugs to lower her testosterone level, Semenya responded: “Hell no!” according to BBC Sport. “No way. I don’t know what will happen next. But no-one should tell me what to do, if people want to stop me from doing something that’s their problem, not mine.”
After the win, she gave a thumbs up to cameras and launched a bunch of flowers into the crowd, later remarking that “actions speak louder than words”.
“When you’re a great champion you always deliver,” Semenya told the BBC.
The BBC quoted her as continuing: “With me, life has been simple. I’m just here to deliver for the people who love and support me. I’m enjoying each and every moment of my life maybe because I have the love I need from my people.”
After her win last night — in the same city where she hopes to feature in September’s world championships — Semenya said she was fighting a bigger battle beyond the track.
“This is all about inspiring the world. This is more than a game, more than sports. This is about human dignity, human pride. What you do if you’re inspiring the world.
“People fight me, I don’t fight them. I live life and I enjoy it,” she said.
While the rest of the global elite were just getting their seasons under way, Semenya’s race signalled a farewell from the track – at least until she decides which path to take moving forward.
Her performance last night was a swansong, of sorts, and after stretching her lengthy unbeaten run in her favoured 800m event, she would have had a chance to look back down the lengthy road she has followed over the last 10 years.
Now 28, Semenya’s struggle to compete against women first started in her youth when she was questioned by pupils and teachers from rival schools who suggested she was a boy.
Her battle, however, was lifted from rural obscurity in Limpopo and catapulted onto the international stage after she clocked 1:56.72 to win the African U-20 title in 2009, ripping more than two seconds off the South African 800m record at the age of 18.
Still relatively unknown, she turned out on the start line at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin and coasted to victory under a storm of controversy, which had erupted on the eve of the final after international media reported that she had been for gender tests before arriving in Germany.
The chaos that emerged on her return home ultimately resulted in three Athletics South Africa (ASA) board members being suspended from the sport, while Semenya was sidelined from the track for 11 months to undergo treatment to meet previous IAAF regulations, which forced her to reduce her natural testosterone levels.
She nonetheless retained her world title in 2011, and won Olympic gold in 2012 (after Russian doper Mariya Savinova was disqualified).
Following a rocky period, during which Semenya was bizarrely inconsistent and well below her best, her career took another turn when Indian sprinter Dutee Chand won a case at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in July 2015, which forced the IAAF to suspend its gender regulations.
Last year, however, the IAAF introduced new rules for DSD athletes, and while the regulations had again been suspended after Semenya and ASA took the matter back to court, they lost their case this week and the IAAF confirmed its rules would come into effect next week.
Though she could still compete over the 5,000m distance, an Olympic event, or take hormone suppressants to compete in middle-distance races, Semenya could also choose to opt out of the sport, which has offered her as many hardships as it has fond memories.
– additional reporting by Citizen reporter