clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Is female track champ really a male?

One of the stranger sports stories is occurring in Berlin, where an investigation has been opened into the gender of the winner of the women's 800 meters at the World Track and Field Championships. Reports Phil Hersh in the L.A. Times:

At least two of the seven runners who lost to Caster Semenya are convinced she is not a woman, and track and field's international governing body has launched an investigation into the 18-year-old's gender.

Semenya, an unknown before she ran a blistering time at the Africa Junior Championships three weeks ago, did not speak to media after the race. An interview sheet distributed by the International Assn. of Athletics Federations said "no comment available," and Pierre Weiss, the IAAF's general secretary, appeared in her place at a news conference because officials determined Semenya was unprepared to face a barrage of questions.

South Africa's team manager says that country entered Semenya as a woman and that "our conscience is clear." The IAAF's Weiss says an investigation could take weeks and will include testing in South Africa and Berlin.

While some fellow competitors said they could not say whether Semenya is actually a man, the fifth- and sixth-place finishers had no such qualms.

"There are people who shouldn't compete with us," [sixth-place Italian Elisa] Cusma told Italian journalists. "She is not a woman, she is a man. We let people win medals, and they don't deserve it."

Semenya came out of nowhere, winning the African championships in July with the best time in the world this year. Her time in the 800 final in Berlin was the 13th fastest in history.

Gender testing has always been dicey in international sports, raising all sorts of physiological, ethical and psychological issues. The IAAF's investigation will include an endocrinologist, a gynecologist and a psychologist in addition to hormonal tests.

The IAAF is treading carefully, as it should, with communications director Nick Davies trying to put the issue in perspective.

"It's a medical issue. It's not an issue of cheating. We're more concerned for the person not to make this something which is humiliating for her and something which is going to affect her in a negative way. This is why you will appreciate we have to be discreet. She is a human being who was born as a woman and who has grown up all her life as a woman but who is now in a position where this is being questioned."