September 08, 2009
It's been a week of change for Caster Semenya, the South African runner at the center of a gender controversy at last month's world track championships.
First, one of her South African coaches quit the team in shame for not telling Semenya that she was being subjected to gender tests. (Semenya had thought she was taking a doping test.) Then, Semenya appeared on the cover of South Africa's You magazine with a complete makeover designed to silence critics who insist she is a man.
For the shoot Semenya sported a less ambiguous hair style, a designer black dress, jewelry, makeup and nail polish. Despite what you think about the whole situation, it's safe to say that this is the first time that Semenya has truly looked like an 18-year old woman.
She says she likes the look too. Semenya told the BBC:
"I'd like to dress up more often and wear dresses but I never get the chance.
I am who I am and I'm proud of myself."
Let's hope this is what she wants though.
Nothing Semenya has done in the past month has suggested that she likes to wear dresses, get manicures and let down her hair. After the controversy broke, she kept her cornrows, wore baggy clothes and pounded her chest in victory like a college football cornerback. When she returned to her hometown, she was dressed the same way. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. That seemed to be Semenya's natural inclination. This feels forced.
Hopefully I'm wrong. But if Semenya was pressured to do this to silence her critics, then this is a sad story rather than one of retribution. The opinions of a few jealous coaches shouldn't have an effect on how an 18-year old carries herself. If Semenya wants to wear dresses then she should. But if she wants to run around in track suits, what's the problem with that?
The coach who resigned wasn't Semenya's personal coach, but a middle distance supervisor on the South African team who was ashamed that Semenya was kept in the dark about the growing controversy. Wilfred Daniels said he was told the issue was supposed to stay private.
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