South African receives gold medal amid gender controversy

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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BERLIN - With controversy swirling over her gender, South African teenager Caster Semenya bowed her head to received the gold medal for her 800-metre world title on Thursday as officials and family came to her defence.
The 18-year-old Semenya dominated her rivals to win the 800 by a commanding margin on Wednesday despite revelations that surfaced earlier in the day that she was undergoing a gender verification test because of concerns she does not meet the requirements to compete as a woman.
When asked by a reporter while walking into the medal ceremony how she was feeling, Semenya smiled and said, "Good, man."
Semenya waved to the crowd as she mounted the podium at the Olympic Stadium to receive her gold medal. Dressed in a yellow and green track suit, she then stood with her hands behind her back and mouthed the words to the South African national anthem as the country's flag was raised.
Afterward, she flashed a big smile as she posed for photographers with her medal.
"She said to me she doesn't see what the big deal is all about," South Africa team manager Phiwe Mlangeni-Tsholetsane said. "She believes it is God given talent and she will exercise it."
About three weeks ago, the IAAF asked the South African athletics federation to conduct the gender test after Semenya burst onto the scene by posting a world leading time of one minute 56.72 seconds at the African junior championships in Bambous, Mauritius.
The teenager's stunning improvement in times, along with her muscular build and deep voice, sparked speculation about her gender. On Wednesday - the day of her first world championship final - revelations surfaced she was undergoing the test.
South African athletics federation president Leonard Chuene staunchly defended the teenager Thursday, and insisted Semenya is facing intense scrutiny because she is African.
"It would not be like that if it were some young girl from Europe," Chuene told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "If it was a white child, she would be sitting somewhere with a psychologist, but this is an African child."
Chuene also said there was no evidence to prove Semenya was doing anything wrong.
"If there was evidence, she would have been stopped," Chuene said. "Where I come from, you're innocent until proven guilty.
"They're judging her based on what?" Chuene added. "Who can give me conclusive evidence? I want someone to do that."
Semenya did not attend the medal winners' news conference after winning Wednesday night's race by a margin of more than two seconds in 1:55.45. She was replaced at the dais by IAAF general secretary Pierre Weiss.
Weiss said the testing was ordered because of "ambiguity, not because we believe she is cheating."
If the tests show that Semenya is not a woman, she would be stripped of her gold medal, Weiss said.
The verification test, which takes weeks to complete, requires a physical medical evaluation, and includes reports from a gynecologist, endocrinologist, psychologist, an internal medicine specialist and an expert on gender.
"We have to be very scrupulously fair and sensitive about" the issue, IAAF spokesman Nick Davies said Thursday. "It's all very well people saying she's a man, she looks like a man - that's not good enough. You have to be very careful and cautious about that."
Davies added that Semenya has already undergone some of the necessary tests at specialist hospitals in South Africa and Berlin. He said that some of the documents in Berlin on Semenya's case were leaked.
Gender testing used to be mandatory for female athletes at the Olympics, but the screenings were dropped in 1999.
One reason for the change was that not all women have standard female chromosomes. In addition, there are cases of people who have ambiguous genitalia or other congenital conditions.
The most common cause of sexual ambiguity is congenital adrenal hyperplasia, an endocrine disorder where the adrenal glands produce abnormally high levels of hormones.
Morris Gilbert, a media consultant for TuksSport, the University of Pretoria's sports department, said the issue of Semenya's gender has not been raised since the 18-year-old freshman began attending the school, where she studies sports science.
He attributed her recent success to hard work and rigorous training.
"She trains a lot," Gilbert said. "If you go to the athletics track, you're sure to find her there. I don't think she had really good training before she came to the university. She's from a very poor area."
But Semenya's former school headmaster said he thought for years that the student was a boy.
"She was always rough and played with the boys. She liked soccer and she wore pants to school. She never wore a dress. It was only in Grade 11 that I realized she's a girl," Eric Modiba, head of the Nthema Secondary School, told the Beeld newspaper.
Semenya's family in the village of Fairlie, about 500 kilometres north of Johannesburg, said she was often teased about her boyish looks.
"That's how God made her," said Semenya's cousin, Evelyn Sekgala. "We brought her up in a way that when people start making fun of her, she shouldn't get upset."

Organizations: The Associated Press, University of Pretoria, Nthema Secondary School Beeld

Geographic location: BERLIN, South Africa, Olympic Stadium Bambous Europe Fairlie Johannesburg

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