Semenya has been dogged by suspicion about her gender since exploding on the athletics scene three weeks ago and has been asked by the International Association of Athletics Federations to undergo a gender test.
Asked to comment by reporters yesterday, the 18-year-old replied: “I don’t give a damn about it.”
The IAAF first asked the teenager to take a gender test after she posted a world leading time of 1:56.72 seconds at the African junior championships in Bambous, Maruitius at the end of July but a gender test takes weeks to complete and could not be done in time for the world championships.
Her family have defended her – “I am not even worried about that because I know who and what my child is,” said her mother Dorcus, “She is a girl and no one can change that,” – but her school headmaster has admitted he presumed she was a boy: “She never wore a dress. It was only in grade 11 that I realised she’s a girl.”
Her coach, Michael Seme, admits that when stopping to use the facilities at a petrol station in Cape Town recently, attendants stopped Semenya from entering the women’s toilets, while Elisa Cusma, the Italian athlete who finished in sixth place last Wednesday evening, was even more forthright, telling reporters: “She’s a man.”
Paddy Power are treating the controversy with due seriousness (you can get odds on the result of the gender test as follows: 1/2 female, 7/4 male, 5/1 hermaphrodite and 100/1 any other) but it may not be the last case of its type.
Gender tests have evolved from a humiliating parade in front of doctors in the 60s to more sophisticated DNA tests, but the Confederation of African Football will use gender testing ahead of next year’s African Women’s Championship, and other organisations may follow that lead.
Notorious cases of gender uncertainty include the 1936 Olympics silver medal winner in the 100-yard Stella Walsh, who was discovered to have male genitalia after she died, and the sudden – and suspicious – withdrawal of Soviet competitors Tamara and Irina Press when gender testing was introduced in 1966.
Famously, the only competitor not to be gender tested at the Montreal Olympics was Britain’s Princess Anne, competing in the equestrian events.