Before she even set foot in Rio, Caster Semenya had already been flung into the media spotlight. As the debate around how to define gender and what advantage elevated T-levels actually have on athletes rages on, Semenya’s attitude and demeanour throughout her Olympic Games campaign can only be admired. Watching her win gold gave her fans bragging rights and shushed the critics at the same time.
The reaction to Caster’s silver medal win in London four years ago, not that she won but that she had a masculine appearance, led to the IAAF consulting with experts to map a way forward relating to women with androgenic hormones. These hormones control the development of male characteristics and while there is some disagreement over what can be considered a “normal” amount of testosterone for women, there is agreement that a gap emerges between the sexes during puberty. For some women, these excessive levels are not beneficial at all, but the IAAF and the International Olympic Committee ruled that anything above 10 nanomoles per litre (nmol/L) of blood would be allowed to compete in the women’s races unless they undergo therapy, which could be anything from taking pills to having surgery.
Indian sprinter Dutee Chand who, like Semenya, was humiliated in the media, would eventually challenge this rule in The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), and last year CAS suspended the International Association of Athletics Federations’ “hyperandrogenism” rules for two years which required women with elevated levels of testosterone to take suppressants to keep their levels at a rate they had deemed “normal”. The rules will be completely scrapped if the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) cannot provide new evidence to support their argument.
That Semenya is running with significantly higher levels of testosterone does not sit well with some, but these nay-sayers seem to be the fuel lighting the fire of the Olympian’s efforts to excel.