Who is Afraid of Caster Semenya: An Opinion Piece by Ezeada Ezenwa


Because we live in a time where gender identity politics is a hot topic, it’s difficult to talk about Caster Semenya without getting bogged down on controversial gender tropes. I’m weary about talking about “trending toooooopics” but it saddens me to see how unwilling Africans are to see the big picture. To talk about this matter, let’s start from the best place, 2009, where it all begun.

In August 2009, Caster Semenya was a South African teenager who was tearing up the tracks at the Junior 800M women’s race. She had won the African Championships and she just won the World Championships with the best time of the entire year in that race, as well as the 1500M race too. She was the defending champion of both races and she had won the Junior Commonwealth race too in 2008.

However, there was a big problem. Caster Semenya had managed to increase her 800M time by 8 seconds and her 1500M time by a whooping 25 seconds and that ‘miraculous’ improvement as well as her appearance, prompted the IAAF to run a sex test on the 18 year old runner.

She wasn’t even told what the tests were for, she thought they were just doping tests. Interestingly, if the IAAF had bothered to look at the circumstances of Caster’s life, they would have found the answer pretty easily. She had resumed at a university with an intensive sports program and she was being mentored by the woman considered to be the best 800M runner of all time, Maria Mutola of Mozambique.

The news of the testing leaked and the resulting shitstorm led to the IAAF apologising for the invasion of her privacy as the topic became a global trending topic.

But let’s look at the 800M women’s race critically, until Maria Mutola won the gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the race had been the exclusive preserve of white women.

Maria Mutola herself had an uneasy journey to that ultimate victory, at the 1991 World Championships, a certain Ella Kovacs tripped her during the race. Ella was so desperate to win that she fell across the finish line, she still didn’t win. Despite the outcry, nothing was done to Ella, nothing at all.

Maria had serious respiratory issues, it was so bad that she had to relocate from Oregon USA to Johannesburg SA because of the pollen count. And she always managed to get flu before her big races with flu being the reason she missed out on repeating her feat at the 2004 Olympics.

Back to Caster’s matter, the IAAF’s reason for testing her in 2009 was to determine if she didn’t have a rare medical condition that confers her with a “natural advantage”. Almost no one talks about Michael Phelps and his own natural advantage. 🙄🙄🙄

The most decorated swimmer in the world has a genetic advantage that explains his dominance in that field. Aside his very long arms, his lactic acid production is less than half of other swimmers.

Lactic acid is the byproduct of anaerobic respiration – the way the body produces energy under low oxygen conditions like during exercise. Lactic acid is primarily responsible for the pain you feel during those kind of activities, it is the body’s way of calling your attention to the need for oxygen. It’s usually responsible for the feeling we know as tiredness.

Of course as you exercise more frequently, your body adapts by finding better oxygen obtaining and utilisation techniques. The most elite athletes produce less lactic acid than average individuals. However, Michael Phelps is on another level entirely, his lactic acid production level is crazy even for elite athletes. What this means is, he recovers faster than his competitors. He also has double jointed elbows and ankles and can flex them to his advantage as he did during the 100M butterfly where he won by a finger tip.

Caster Semenya has XY chromosomes and has elevated testosterone levels, this is the reason many people think there is merit to this debate. Yet most of the other 800M gold medalists did not have to undergo rigorous tests to verify their gender, not even the runners who look more manly than most men.

You know which runners have had to verify that they are women? The runners from a certain continent called Africa. Like I wrote earlier, the race was previously won only by white women with the Soviet block dominating the medals table until Maria Mutola broke into the arena and has successfully led a contingent of black women who have taken over the sport.

White tears galore 😂😂😂

This is not the first time we’ve seen this avalanche of white tears and resentment when a brown women take over sports previously reserved for white women. Serena Williams, despite her huge successes, still feels the sting.

Anyway, why is there renewed vigour in pursuing Caster’s matter? The woman is on the cusp of making history, she very likely will take a medal for the 800M race at the coming Olympics, her chances of going for gold are pretty good.

You see, no one has ever gotten medals in that race in three Olympics. Maria Mutola was set to do it in 2004 until her suspiciously timed flu impeded her performance at the race.

I have zero issues with Caster having to lower her testosterone levels. However, if every participant in that race isn’t tested and made to have uniform testosterone levels, it would still be epic discrimination against the woman who has done nothing except do what she loves.

And if Michael Phelps with his extreme advantages wasn’t made to take lactic acid to increase his levels to enable a more level playing field, why should Caster?

And why the hell are Black people so fixated on the politics of gender and refuse to ask the right question?

Who is afraid of Caster Semenya?

PS: I’ve included pictures of Jarmila Kratochvílová who holds the current world record in the 800M race against pictures of Semenya for comparison.

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