Tag: Caster Semenya


It all used to be so simple.  Then again, it all used to be pretty screwed up, too.  But in today’s charged political climate, where folks can be as sensitive as a hemorrhoidal pole-sitter, the politics of gender and self-identification remain fraught with — what did I just read today, that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will raise their baby as “gender-fluid”? Gender-fluid?  Let’s see how that affects the Olympic schedule in 2044.

And so after a weeks worth of testimony at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland, the case against the IAAF for requiring reduced testosterone levels in so-called hyperandrogenic athletes – or women runners with “differences of sexual development” (DSD) – now awaits a decision by a three-person panel on or before March 26th. 

Caster Semenya in Doha 2016
(Andrew McClanahan/PhotoRun)

The case against the proposed IAAF ruling, brought by double Olympic 800-meter champion Caster Semenya of South Africa, is not as simple as restricting performance-enhancing drug use. In fact, in what seems a massive irony, the IAAF is looking to sanction performancerestricting drug use to reduce the testosterone levels of certain female athletes, which begs the question, why not do the same for performance-enhancing drug use, if the point is to guarantee a level playing field? And how level is level? And how fluid is fluid? And have we stepped upon that old slippery slope?

Let’s begin here. The whole purpose of a competition is to discover through the intricate calculus of talent, training, and tactics how one athlete gets to the finish line ahead of all others. It is the ineffable nature of that calculus that makes the sport intriguing. Take away the unknowable, replace it with certainty, and you’ve essentially eliminated the game.

Why don’t women just compete against men?  Because we would know the result before the start.

I went grocery shopping with the wife yesterday and she was lamenting how heavy the bags were as she handed them to me from the cart to put in the trunk.

“You’re older than I am and I work out with weights in the gym,” she said  “But you only have to use one hand to lift the bags while I have to use two. It’s not fair.”

There it is. I have testosterone coursing through my system at a level she doesn’t, and testosterone is the separating agent that distinguishes a man’s strength and power advantage over a woman’s – after boys and girls compete on an equal basis before the onset of puberty. The IAAF suggests the way to make things right in the middle distance races from 400m to 1500m is to reduce that hormonal advantage certain women have over others. Semenya and her advocates suggest otherwise. (more…)



Semenya has been making it look easy

There’s almost no way to address the issue of hyperandrogenism in sport today in a coldly clinical manner.  The politics of gender identification remain too sensitive, too complex.  Yet the issue is in the spotlight once again, as legal representatives of two-time Olympic and three-time World 800-meter champion Caster Semenya of South Africa prepare to challenge a female classification rule imposed by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF)  before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland today.

The IAAF rule, established in April 2018, and scheduled to be enforced beginning this November, will require female runners with naturally high testosterone levels to either race against men, or change events unless they take medication to reduce their testosterone levels.  The ruling will involve athletes in events ranging from 400-meters to the mile.

In what amounts to an amicus brief, South African law professor Steve Cornelius resigned from the IAAF disciplinary tribunal on May 1st to protest the IAAF classification rule. Professor Cornelius, who was appointed to the IAAF tribunal late last year, wrote that he could not in good conscience continue to associate himself with “an organization that insists on ostracizing certain individuals, all of them female, for no reason other than being what they were born to be.”

27-year-old Caster Semenya has been dogged by the gender controversy since she won her first of three 800-meter world titles in Berlin 2009 as a teenager while winning competitions with noticeable ease for the last several years.  She is currently on a 24-finals win streak in the 800, with her last loss in her specialty coming in Berlin in September 2015. She spoke out against the IAAF classification rule through her legal representatives at the Norton Rose Fulbright law firm, saying “I just want to run naturally, the way I was born. It is not fair that I am told I must change. It is not fair that people question who I am. I am Mokgadi Caster Semenya. I am a woman and I am fast.” (more…)



  • The Island of Dr. MoreauMan, I’m telling you, I can’t wait for gene manipulation to get here. I mean, just so we can move on to something new.  You just can’t get away from it. Track and field has become so hopelessly twisted in its Gordian knot of lost honor and mistrust that it desperately needs a new focus.  Fortunately, the whole pig-man thing is about to come snorting over the horizon leading toward track’s own version of the The Island of Doctor Moreau.
  •   You may have read that researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham are partnering with a private biotechnology company to develop organs from genetically-modified pigs to help meet the demand for human transplants.   As you might imagine, it’s just a matter of time before that research gets turned toward heart valve, liver function and enhanced hoof-feet hybrids.  Next thing you know, Nike will sue for patent infringement (as Alberto will have already started a hybrid program at Portland HQ).  Imagine the fun we’ll have with that in the coming years?
  • But for now, just when we thought the issue of hyperandrogenism and Caster Semenya was behind us, the Court of Arbitration for sport (CAS) has dragged it back into the lab once again.
  • Caster Semenya making it look easy in Rabat
    Caster Semenya making it look easy in Rabat

    The strapping South African 800-meter runner cruised to a 1:56.46 win in the Rabat (Morocco) Diamond League meeting this past weekend, after tripling in the South African nationals a month ago, pulling off wins in the 400, 800, and 1500 meters all on the same day.  And, as we were told by Ross Tucker in The Science of Sport blog, the 400 and 800 were scheduled just 50 minutes apart and the second lap of the her 1:58 800 dropped at sub-60 seconds!  Jeezus, Caster!  Could you at least make it look moderately difficult?  In Rabat you were holding back so much, even off a 56-point first lap, that it was like watching the Italian kid try to be inconspicuous in the Irish schoolyard.

    Last year the CAS ruled against the IAAF in the case of Indian sprinter Dutee Chand. In that ruling the court questioned the athletic advantage of naturally high levels of testosterone in women and therefore immediately suspended the practice of “hyperandrogenism regulation” by track and field’s governing body – which had previously forced Semenya off the track to lower her T-levels if she wanted to compete in women’s races.  That ruling allowed Semenya to return to her indomitable 2009 World Championship form,  high-T and all, and has her steaming toward Rio like a runaway freight train, one that promises more wreckage for the sport, with poor Caster strapped to the cow-catcher out front.

    While the CAS ruling was only temporary, if the IAAF cannot satisfy the court as to the advantages of naturally occurring high testosterone in women in the two-year window given, and we end up with no limit to functional high-T levels, then we might as well forget about women’s racing altogether. Just have one category, human being, and let the chips fall where they may (until the whole pig-man thing shows up and has us questioning species categorization).

    So, while hyperandrogenism is not a disability in any sense, and notwithstanding the CAS ruling, the Semenya eyeball test indicates that it does create a different level of ability when it is of the functional variety (not all naturally occurring high-T is functional to performance).  This is where the Paralympic Games could be utilized as a potential model.

  • The IPC has established 10 disability categories, including physical, visual, and intellectual impairment. There are eight different types of physical impairment alone, including impaired muscle power (spinal-cord injury, spina bifida or polio); impaired passive range of movement (one or more joints is reduced in a systematic way); loss of limb or limb deficiency, leg-length difference, short stature; Hypertonia; Ataxia, and Athetosis, which is generally characterized by unbalanced, involuntary movements and a difficulty maintaining a symmetrical posture (e.g. cerebral palsychoreoathetosis).