Silver medal in 800 meters offers little clarity in Semenya speculation
LONDON -- Just after the women's 800-meter race finished, the winner -- Russia's Mariya Savinova -- turned to the silver medalist, South Africa's Caster Semenya, and the two shared a hug. Exactly as they did last year in Daegu, when they finished in the same order in the world championships. And exactly the complete opposite of what happened in Berlin in '09, at those world championships.
After that race, where Savinova took fifth and then-unknown Semenya smashed her competitors by more than two-and-a-half seconds, Savinova was one of the first to heap scorn on Semenya. "Just look at her," she said, referring to Semenya's muscular build, and insinuating that Semenya was a man, or in some way unfairly masculinized. (For background on the frenzy that ensued when it became public that Semenya had undergone biological sex testing, read
Coming into these Olympics, Semenya was one of biggest wildcards in the world. Following her win at '09 world championships, Semenya vanished from competition for a year, ostensibly as her eligibility was being worked out. (Britain's
Last year, Semenya came into the world championships with a season-best of 1:58.61, and then ran 1:56.35 in the worlds final. In that race, Semenya seemed to have the win locked up, only to be passed by Savinova in the final straight, prompting
The 800 final in London will likely do nothing to push spectators in either direction of speculation. Semenya ran fast, but significantly slower than she did in '09, and never has there been a more relaxed runner at the finish of an 800. Semenya passed most of the field in the final straight to take silver, and, unlike the other women in the race, Semenya did not bend over gasping for air, but just smiled and looked up at the video screen.
It's a difficult thing to process in a race that often brings competitors, literally, to their knees, but Semenya has always looked this way at the end of races, even before she became the subject of global headlines. (See further analysis of the race at
After the race, Mutola -- who just started coaching Semenya this season -- told Semenya that she did a good job, but jabbed a finger into her shoulder and asked why she made her move so late in the race, when Savinova was already so far ahead. Said Semenya, "unfortunately I made a late move, but I'm very happy with the silver medal." When asked why she waited so long to move, Semenya said that "you never know what is going to happen in a race," and that she just mistimed her kick.
When Semenya was asked whether she purposely did not win, she laughed, and, once again, the 21-year-old from a small town in South Africa showed considerable aplomb in front of the media. "The plan was to go for gold," she said. "Unfortunately, I made a move too late ... Every athlete's dream is to win the Olympics."
When Savinova was asked about Semenya's race, she said, through a translator, that "probably today something was not very satisfactory for Caster ... probably something was wrong with her." Semenya said that her training had not been going well up until a month ago, and that it took her time to adjust to Mutola's coaching, and that "I'm very happy we peaked at the right time."
SI asked Savinova why she now hugs Semenya, when she was one of her primary critics in '09, but, according to native Russian speakers in the room, the question was mistranslated, and Savinova did not adddress the issue. But it probably requires no answer. The one time Semenya ran away from her, Savinova was angry. The last two times -- '11 worlds and the Olympics -- when Savinova won, she had a hug at the ready.
In May, SI published an article about