By Mark Etheridge
Teenager Caster Semenya has come of age!
The 18-year-old South African shrugged off both the threat from the world’s quickest 800 metre runners and the controversy over her disputed gender to win the two-lap title at the IAAF World Track and Field Championships in Berlin, Germany Wednesday night.
The Limpopo athlete went into the final as both the world’s quickest 800m woman of the year and also one of the most controversial athletes as media debate simmered over her disputed sexuality.
One thing’s for sure … there was no disputing her superiority as she blasted around┬á the Olympic Stadium to win the title in emphatic fashion, clocking 1min 55.45sec.
That’s way better than the 1:55.72 she ran in winning the African championships in Bambous Mauritius just under three weeks ago.
It was South Africa’s first medal since the 2003 World Championships and surely the most assertive as she simply crushed her opponents on a hot Berlin evening.
Predictably it was the woman she has come up against most (in more ways than one) in the last few days, who gave her the most opposition. Janeth Jepkosgei┬á fought hardest to earn silver in 1:57.90 while rising British star Jennifer Meadows took bronze in 1:57.93.
It was Kenyan Jepkosgei who Semenya tangled with in the first round, going down in a heap as Semenya strode on to victory. But an appeal saw her going through to the semi-finals where Semenya again proved too good for her.
And so it was again Wednesday night as Semenya strode to the front before Jepkosgei nipped in front to reach 200m in 26.81sec.
Semenya then surged ahead again to take the bell in a quick 56.83sec. It was at this stage that some thought the pace might be too hot.
Too hot for most but not for Semenya as the field went through 600m in 1:26.96 and then went into freeze-frame mode as the African and soon-to-be world queen turned on the turbo-charger to scorch to victory.
Commentators were left aghast by Semenya’s victory and she cut a lone figure as she first stood alone, then took the flag and saluted an ecstatic contingent of countrymen and women in the stands.
Semenya’s time is the quickest run by any of her opponents in the final and can be gauged by the fact that it’s less than a second outside the legendary Czech world recordholder’s World Championships record of 1:54:68, set in Helsinki, Finland in 1983. Its also just outside the top 10 times of all time.
News last night was that the IAAF had asked Athletics South Africa to conduct gender tests on Semenya. That may be the case but for now Semenya rules the world!
Earlier in the evening 200m sprinter Isabel le Roux went out in the first round after a 23.61sec finish but Willem Coertzen lies 17th in the decathlon, amassing 4154 after the first day’s five events as he goes in search of his third African record of the year.