JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Olympic silver medallist Caster Semenya has defended herself against allegations that she did not try to win the 800 metres at the London Games on Saturday.
The South African who was forced to undergo gender testing after her 2009 world championships triumph, started poorly in the final, sitting at the back of the field until she produced a late burst to finish second to Mariya Savinova, 1.04 seconds behind the Russian.
Her performance led to speculation by television pundit Colin Jackson, three times the 110m hurdles world champion, that Semenya had deliberately avoided winning so as not to stir up fresh controversy like that in 2009.
“I tried my best, whatever people say. There is always talk but these people know nothing about athletics,” Semenya said at Johannesburg airport on Tuesday, where she received a heroine’s welcome.
South Africa’s sports minister Fikile Mbalula praised Semenya, a shy 21-year-old from an obscure rural village in South Africa’s northernmost province of Limpopo, as an inspiration to all those coming from similarly modest upbringings.
“I don’t know about her strategy in the race but she has made us very proud. Nobody gave her a chance but she showed the greatest guts of a young African woman,” Mbalula said while choking back tears.
“She has toiled out of difficulty to become a symbol of greatness and has shown that it doesn’t matter where you come from. From her small village in Limpopo, where the people are full of poverty, she has become the symbol of a courageous young woman.”
Semenya, who clocked one minute 57.23 seconds in the final, said she was satisfied with a silver medal but would be looking to go one better in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“I am happy with silver but it was hard work. I said to myself that I must get something from the race and I saw that the other ladies were tired. I had to pull out my turbo-boost,” she smiled.
“I’m concentrating now on next year, the world championships in Moscow, that is my main focus. The Olympics are still four years away and we learn by mistakes so hopefully I can do better next time and win the Olympics.”