By Gary Lemke
Caster Semenya declared herself ready to rock London and rule the world ahead of her flag-bearing duties at Friday night’s opening ceremony at London 2012.
‘This is my first Olympics after having won gold (2009) and silver (2011) at the last two world championships. I’m in good shape, mentally and physically and I’ve got no worries. It’s a great honour and privilege to carry the South African flag,’ said the 21-year-old 800m runner.
Semenya was the headline act of a Team South Africa press conference in central London and was flanked by the athletic squad’s manager, former Olympic 800m silver medallist Hezekiel Sepeng, Sascoc chief executive Tubby Reddy, Sascoc first vice-president Hajera Kajee and the team’s chef de mission, Patience Shikwambana.
Despite an indifferent season thus far during which she switched coaches and in her own words, “had to start at the beginning again, going from A to get to Z,” Semenya was oozing confidence. She is considered a leading candidate for gold and showed a visible confidence that suggests she’s here in London meaning business.
‘Im not upset with my performances this year and I’m not worrying about the times that I’ve run, or have not run. All I’m concentrating on is running a good championships. Don’t worry about me ÔÇª there are no worries from my side. We’re ready. Put the spikes on and do my best. As an individual I’m strong.’
To spontaneous applause, Semenya said, ‘I was not expecting to carry the South African flag. But now I have a responsibility to meet the team and do my bit. Let’s hope for medals. There has been a lot of talk about 12 medals, but I’m hoping that we can double that!’
Sepeng, who won his silver in 1996 in Atlanta, was South Africa’s flag bearer at the opening ceremony four years later at Sydney 2000. ‘Hopefully it will bring you luck, Caster. We’e all very proud of you.’
When asked to name her likely rivals, or who she would have to keep an eye on, Semenya countered with a maturity that has come over the past year. No longer is she the shy teenager who exploded on to the global scene amid so much controversy in 2009. ‘I can only concentrate on my race. The times don’t matter. If I’m strong mentally I’m strong. Come on ÔÇª if you want to beat the best you’ve got to beat everybody.’