South African runner Caster Semanya, who is just 18 years old, was so upset and angry at the decision to make her take the test that it was only after the intervention of her national athletics association head that she stepped up to the podium.
Leonard Chuene told reporters, “She said she did not want to go to the podium, but I told her she had to do it. She said to me, ‘No-one has ever told me I am not a woman – I am not a boy! Why did they bring me here? They should have left me at home in my village.’”
The complicated gender test, which will require a number of gynaecological and psychological tests as well as work by a host of scientists, was ordered after questions were raised due to her muscular physique, deep voice and fast running time.
Some media reports suggest a letter to the athletics association could have triggered suspicions. South African media, which have concentrated on the story of how Semanya managed to pull herself from a dirt poor village, practising running on dirt roads, to the world stage of athletics.
Her parents and grandmother have all testified to her female gender, saying that she was teased at school for her lack of traditional femininity.
Her father Jacob said, “We will not accept that she should undergo these tests and we agree with her that she should have rejected the medal.”
Some questioning her gender have focused on such ‘clues’ as the fact that she looked boyish, was never interested in wearing dresses and instead played football.
It was revealed on Wednesday that she had undergone gender tests in South Africa, while Nick Davies, spokesman for the IAAF, said that she would have been tested under IAAF auspices when she competed in last year’s Junior Commonwealth Games.
The decision to put her through the tests again have sparked outrage in South Africa, where allegations have been made that had she been a white athlete, no such demands would have been made.
South Africa’s ruling part, the African National Congress, even waded in, condemning what it said would be a traumatic experience for the teenager. “What happened is the most humiliating experience which could happen to an international athlete… We have asked Caster to accept the medal for all of us in South Africa,” said ANC spokesman Brian Sokutu.
Davies said even if a gender test were to show Semenya were male, she would not be stripped of her medal. He said, “Legally if you are found to be of a different sex to that declared, that is not cheating. Doping is an attempt to defraud and is cheating. So it is not necessarily the case that she would be stripped of her medal. It is a very delicate matter.”
Any gender testing will be complicated by the growing understanding that male and female are not absolutes, and there is a sliding scale physiologically as well as psychologically, between the two.