Did Semenya throw the 800?

As we discussed in our last class, Caster Semenya became the world champion in the 800 meter dash. Although she had a great victory, life became difficult for her soon after. The trouble here was that in the course of one year, she made an enormous personal record, reducing her time significantly. People assumed that Semenya had either taken some kind of illegal steroid or that “she” was really a “he.” Semenya had gotten a lot of trouble from the press and gender tests were performed on her. It seemed odd that Semenya ran a 2:04.23 at age 17 and a 1:55.45 at 18. To be honest, I had initially thought that “she” had been doping and/or had both male and female organs thus giving her an unfair advantage due to the production of male hormones.

Well, it turned out that Semenya’s particular genetic makeup allows her to produce greater amounts of testosterone than the average woman, which induces greater muscle growth. She clearly has very unusual genetics, which allows her to do as well as she does. The IAAF called for the tests in order to determine if Semenya had a “rare medical condition” that would give her an unfair advantage. I have something to say about this. I can run fast because I have very effective fast twitch muscles, and an athletic physique that makes me run faster than others, a result of my genetic makeup. So if I run against someone who doesn’t have those kinds of genes, does that mean that I also have an unfair advantage? Certainly not. If we say this of Semenya, then I guess we should say this of every #1 athlete in the world. Of course, hard work, training, and drive all play a role in the success of such athletes, but when you get down to it, these people must have some kind of genetic trait that allows them to do what they do, and I do NOT call this an unfair advantage.

I would also like to talk about another important subject of debate. Over the summer I watched Semenya run the 800 during the 2012 Olympics. I remember seeing her in the back of the pack for a long way until she finally started to make her move and give a good kick to the finish. She however, came in second to Mariya Savinova. Based on what I saw, I initially thought that Semenya threw the race because she, in fact, was a man, or on some kind of drugs, and hoped to be left alone and escape testing if she came in second. However, now that I think about it and now that I know the real story about her, I actually feel that she may have been trying to avoid trouble from the press even though she had been cleared to compete as a “woman.” But, I also think that perhaps she did NOT throw the race and simply did the best she could. That last haul to the finish was pretty impressive. Maybe she misjudged the right time to make her move. It’s also important to note that Semenya apparently missed a lot of coaching and training while going through all of the lab tests to prove her femininity, which could also explain why she did not do her best at that meet.

I have one last question for everyone: what exactly does gender mean in the grand scheme of things?

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3 Responses to Did Semenya throw the 800?

  1. clapperclawed-champ says:

    I think that as society grows more tolerant and understanding of the fact that gender is not always completely black and white sports too will have to find a way to accept transgender and third gender athletes. It is certainly not clear where these athletes belong in the current system of sports that is often broken down male/female. I believe the system as it stands could lead to the marginalization of these athletes. I think I remember hearing that Semenya had to go through some sort of gender verification before competing which I’m sure felt humiliating and that sort of treatment may discourage other athletes who do not fit neatly into a male/female scheme from participating in sports.

  2. riverrat riverrat says:

    I think that you bring up a valid point that gender is often times way to present in our society. I am on the Woodsmen’s team here, and it is interesting to see how gender plays out at various meets that we attend. In Canada, where Woodsmen is more like a varsity sport, there are rules pertaining to men and women’s wood. The men’s wood is much larger than that of the women’s; however at least on our team, the women can do the same size wood in perhaps just a bit of a longer time.

  3. Fearless Leader ugogal says:

    There was a great talk in the fall by an outside speaker on exactly this topic. Before the talk, I really didn’t think it was fair for Semenya to be competing. After the talk, I completely changed my mind. The speaker alerted me to this great BBC show, “Too Fast to be a Woman,” that profiled Semenya. My conclusion after watching this show was that it was unconscionable for officials to prohibit her from competing for as long as they did while they tried to make up their minds about whether she is a female or not. Clearly, she thinks of herself as a female. It’s not like she was living as a male for 16 years, then thought, “Hey, I could really kick butt if I ran against the girls!” The IOC really needs to talk to some biologists and figure this out!!

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