The consternation over South African 800m runner Caster Semenya’s borderline gender has unfortunately become the story of a World Athletics Championships that should be remembered for their apparent ‘cleanliness’.
Olympic legend Carl Lewis, whose sexuality remains close to his chest, was ridiculed in the 1980s for his feminine characteristics (a ‘womanly’ wardrobe and Michael Jackson-esque voice) not least by the man who mocked him, and the sport of sprinting, most during that era, the big, butch and bad Ben Johnson – the beefcake to Lewis’s more tender joints. All the while he was bulging up to his eyeballs in steroids, human growth hormone and what have you. The late Florence Griffith Joyner, whose premature death has been widely attributed to her alleged ingestion of elephantine quantities of body-warping drugs, had the physique of a man when she sprinted to sullied glory in Seoul.
Then there were the procession of old Eastern Bloc behemoths: females, mostly, who were effectively morphed into manmade medal-winning mutants by ‘doctors’ directed by communist regimes.
Whatever the ambiguity about her (fe)maleness, there’s no denying the incredible stride’s Semenya has made in the past 13 months: an improvement of 16 seconds for a two-lap race. That’s phenomenally-fast progress by anyone, whether they’re shaving their face or just their legs. The real question should be how, not who?
Though there must be a suspicion that someone may be taking advantage of her masculinity and natural testosterone excesses to push the physiological boundaries, to be crude, the way I look at it, unless the 18-year-old runaway gold medallist has a touch of the Linfords about her, whatever Caster’s chromosonal composition, she’s a girl – even if, to twist Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler’s words, the ‘Lady looks like a dude’.