Part of Outsports’ series on our 100 most important moments in gay sports history.
Track & Field, 2009. Across our entire list of 100 moments, this may be the most complicated and most misunderstood. Here's what we know. In the summer of 2009, Semenya won the 800m World Championship in Berlin (see the full video below), winning by 15 meters. But earlier that year she won two African Junior Championships in shocking fashion, shaving 8 seconds from her 800m time and 25 seconds off her 1500m time in just nine months. The dramatic drop in her times prompted the International Association of Athletics Federations to investigate.
The investigation was understandable given her rapid improvement. Where the IAAF made a blunder was asking Semenya to take a gender test and then watching as news of the request leaked out at the World Championships.
What followed the World Championships were months of criticism of the IAAF from various fronts charging racism and that the IAAF handled the issue improperly. Semenya's coach resigned saying he had failed to protect her from the IAAF. Olympic superstar Michael Johnson and others came to Semenya's defense.
As it all unfolded, the sports world got a glimpse of issues affecting intersex athletes. That is, after all, what the IAAF was looking into: whether Semenya was born with reproductive anatomy that doesn't fit into the world's typical binary view of gender.
In July 2010, nearly a year after the IAAF opened the can of worms, Semenya was granted permission to continue to compete as a female. But the damage was done both to the IAAF in a public relations nightmare and to Semenya emotionally. Some, like Sports Illustrated's David Epstein, wonder if Semenya has been ordered to take hormones that will "feminize" her and potentially slow her down. For the first time in a long time, everyone will be waiting to watch the women's 800m at the London Olympics next year.
For more information:
- Patricia Nell Warren's column on 'The IOC and gender inquisition'
- CNN article exploring what is intersexuality