Picture by 2018 Getty Images

Caster Semenya: Seven things you should know about the double Olympic champion

The two-time Olympic gold medal winning runner has been unbeaten for years. But did you know the South African's first sporting love was football?
By Evelyn Watta

Double Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya has been unbeaten in 32 races since taking gold at Rio 2016.

The South African track star is hoping to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021, which would be her third Olympics, but is yet to qualify.

In May 2019, a World Athletics eligibility ruling came into effect which prevents female athletes with differing sex characteristics from competing in events from 400m to one mile (1600m), unless they reduce their testosterone levels.

Subsequently, the three-time 800m world champion Semenya is likely to focus on the 200m in order to secure a spot for the Olympics in Japan.

But how well do you know 30-year-old away from competition? Below are seven interesting facts about Caster Semenya.

1 - Semenya’s first love is football

Semenya loved football as a young girl. She began playing when she was six-years-old in Ga-Masehlong, a small village in the northern province of Limpopo where she was born.

Running only came as a by-product of her football training.

In 2019, Semenya returned to football and began training with the South African women's football team, and JVW - a Gauteng-based club founded by double Olympian Janine van Wyk.

The 800m star clarified that she had no plans to quit track just yet, and was only training with the team during her break from athletics.

She also watches a lot of football and her favourite team is English Premier League side Manchester United.

2 - A big talker

Ever since Semenya took the World title in Berlin in 2009, the runner has been in the spotlight, and she has never been shy of speaking her mind.

She has firmly refused to take medication or undergo surgery to keep running in the 800m, and has been highly vocal in her fight against the World Athletics ruling on the eligibility of athletes with Differences of Sexual Development (DSD).

“I talk too much,” she admitted in an interview to the Gentlewoman.

In an interview with South African television channel SuperSport, the sports science graduate laid bare her feelings about the gender verification tests.

"I don't understand when you say I have an advantage because I am a woman. When I pee, I pee like a woman. I don't understand when you say I am a man or I have a deep voice."

Caster Semenya en route to gold in the 800m during the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, Germany.
Picture by 2009 Getty Images

3 - She runs an athletics club and a foundation

Semenya's grew up in Limpopo, South Africa, where she grew up as the fourth-youngest of five children, collecting firewood, fetching water, and other rural chores.

This simple upbringing influenced her decision to found Masai Athletics Club with her wife Violet Raseboya, to coach aspiring young runners from the region.

Her early life-story was the inspiration behind the club, running around the village barefoot before being given the opportunity to train as a professional athlete.

“When you’re a kid, you want love. You want support. You want to be appreciated. Those are the fundamental skills for a human being. It’s the little things,” she said about the Masai AC club's mission.

“We want them to smile every day when they wake up. They know, ‘Ah today I’m going to training. Tomorrow I’m going to training’.”

She also runs the Caster Semenya Foundation which raises awareness, funds for selected campaigns, and local communities.

4 - Committed to family

Semenya is very committed to her family and maintains close links to her roots.

"What makes me happy is to have my family around me, Nothing else. Without my family, I cannot live," she told Sports Illustrated.

She came out and married her long-time partner Violet Raseboya, also a runner, in 2017.

“We met in a restroom in 2007. She was a runner and was being escorted by doping officials. She thought I was a boy and said 'What is a boy doing in here?',” Semenya said in a BET International interview.

"I'm not a boy. You think I'm lost? You think I can just walk in here?" Semenya replied.

They got married in 2017. South Africa is the only African country that legally recognises same-sex marriage.

The Semenyas recently shared a photo of their baby daughter.

5 - Mentored by an Olympic champion

Semenya has been coached by Mozambique running legend Maria Mutola from 2011.

The Sydney 2000 gold medallist also won three World titles over the 800m.

Mutola competed in six Olympic Games, and coached Semenya to gold at London 2012.

Semenya has maintained that Mutola, who also captained her national football team at the 2011 All African Games, will always remain her mentor.

Picture by Bongarts

6 - Semenya touched by Nelson Mandela’s wisdom and LeBron’s support

Semenya was once star-struck when she connected with fellow Olympic champ LeBron James.

In 2018, the NBA legend flew to Berlin to watch the ISTAF Berlin track and field event at the Olympiastadion, where the South African was racing.

And Semenya did not disappoint the LA Lakers basketball superstar.

She won the women's 1000m in 2:30.70, in what was then the fifth-fastest time in history.

The two athletes met after the race and Semenya was thrilled by his presence saying, “LeBron had made my year by showing up to watch me run”.

The other time Semenya was star-struck was when she met great South African leader Nelson Mandela after winning the 2009 world title.

She said Mandela's words of wisdom during a difficult period in her life kept her going.

“I went to see him (after Berlin) and he said just toughen up and face the world."

7 - Semenya’s favourite dish is...

It’s quite simple and quick to make. It’s made of maize meal boiled with water, and a bit of salt if needed.

The mixture popularly known as pap in South Africa is stirred into the desired texture to form a soft-like cake.

The maize meal dish can be eaten alongside stew or vegetables.

It's clearly an African favourite, with Olympic marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge also a fan of the maize meal dish!