This is a piece by Stuart Weir on Caster Semenya. 

Caster Semenya,  a personal reflection

The last time I saw Caster Semenya was at the 2022 World Championships in Oregon when she finished 13th in 15:46.12 in the first round of the 5000m.  We exchanged a greeting in the mixed zone but she did not want to stay to talk.  The previous time had been at the Doha Diamond League, which she won in 1:54.98.  It was to be the second last time she would run an 800m.  She greeted me in Doha with a big hug.

I had done a long interview with her the previous year in Zurich.  She had done her duty at the event press conference before sitting down to talk to me.  She gave the impression that she would have talked to me as long as I wanted.  The content of the interview was good, but my abiding memory is of my deep respect for her as a person.

Caster Semenya, Doha 2019, photo by Diamond League AG

I was surprised to learn that she had started off as a sprinter. She told me: “The first time I walked on the track, I was a 100 and 200-meter runner, but because of the lack of facilities and coaching skills, I decided to step off sprinting to do the middle distance, because I thought even without a coach I could still train.  So I think this being just came naturally from when I was young and did a lot of sprinting”.  She believes that her strong finishing speed can be traced back to her background as a youth sprinter.

I’ve been privileged to see all her great races in two Olympics and five world championships. In 2017 I saw her run a 1:55 three times, but it is more about Caster, the person that I want to reflect.  I have always been struck by her grace and dignity.  She explained: “I think every human has ups and downs, and there are things that you cannot control.  I think for me, as a human, you have to learn how to be a good person, how to be a good human.  I had to learn how to live a good life and I had to learn how to respect other people.  I think for a period of 10 years, I became a better person from the experience that I have had as an athlete; from being a teenager onto now, it has been a great journey. “

Caster Semenya, photo by Diamond League AG

“I have been raised to respect people, even if they don’t respect me.  It doesn’t matter who respects me and who doesn’t.  At the end of the day, I had been taught to be a good person, even to those who hate me.  To me, it means nothing.  It’s all about containing yourself and being a good person, even if someone doesn’t like you, it is their problem is not yours”.

 She was also clear about where her principles come from: “I am a Christian.  I believe in the Bible.  Whatever I read in the Bible, that made me who I am today.  I will not let humans’ reactions change me.  I can change myself.  When I read the Bible, I feel peace.  That’s how I am. I am growing in the religious faith helps a lot because you know what is right and wrong”.   

Caster Semenya, photo by Diamond League AG

As I ended the interview, I asked her to tell me about caster the person: “I am quite an easy person.  I like my own space.  I watch sport.  I follow sport a lot.  When I’m not running, I will be playing with a ball, or I will be indoor watching movies.  Or catching up with all the sports – I like football, tennis, basketball. I like golf, Formula One, motor sport.  And all about sport.  I’m an easy person to talk to.  I love people.  In my spare time, I just chill”. 

She asked me to mention one other passion: “Not that much except the work that they do at home.  I have my foundation and my own club that I’m running.  My main focus now it is to develop young up-and-coming boys and girls”.  

I know it’s a very complex situation with no easy answers, but I am left with deep respect for Caster Semenya as an athlete and as a human being.

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