Nelson Mandela once said that sport is supposed to make people feel united. Another one of his powerful quotes, but this time, what’s more important is whom he said it too. Shortly before leaving for the 2009 Champions in Berlin a shy teenage, Caster Semenya smiled gleefully at Madiba. An now, shortly after taking gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Caster can still hear those powerful words ring true as South Africans unite under her victory.
A lot has changed since then: she has overcome obstacles, grown in confidence, broke national records in passing and bagged a couple of gold medals in the process.
On 16 April 2016, Semenya became the first person to win all three of the 400m, 800m, and 1 500m titles at the South African National Championships, setting world leading marks of 50.74 and 1:58.45 in the first two events, and a 4:10.93 in the 1 500m, all within a nearly 4-hour span of each other. Semenya looked back at that day and in an interview with the BBC, said she had fun at the SA Nationals. That is what makes a star athlete – the fact that she runs because she enjoys it.
The gold she secured in the women’s 800m race in Rio was just the cherry on top of the proverbial cake. She pushed new boundaries, not only for South Africa as a whole but for women the world over. Caster is the first black South African woman to win gold in the Olympic Games, and did so under severe scrutiny. Her medical condition, hyperandrogenism is a case in which high level of androgens are found in the body. Regardless of this, Caster did exactly what Mandela had told her, she united the nation as she ran to victory early Sunday morning, South African time. The country woke up to social media on fire. Tweets were dropping like raindrops during a Highveld storm, proclaiming the star athlete had won the women’s 800m race with an SA record of 1:55.28 – only two seconds shy of the World Record set in 1983 by Czech athlete, Jarmila Kratochvílová.
Caster Semenya has broken bounds not only as an athlete but as a woman. She has opened doors for women of all shapes, sizes and colour. This in itself goes beyond her medals and accomplishments. The support behind her – from both local and international fans – is something of great beauty. You could say that Caster winning gold at the 2016 Olympic Games is a solid note on which to end Women’s Month.