Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Caster Semenya: 'It's All About Loving One Another'

FARAI CHIDEYA, HOST:

Last night, as expected, South African runner Caster Semenya won the women's Olympic 800 meters. But the debate she sparked about gender and sports rages on. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Caster Semenya was not a Bolt or Phelps or Biles at these games. She wasn't a constant presence hailed by media and fans alike. Instead, Semenya blew through Rio on the game's final Saturday night. Yes, she only competed in the one event, the 800, but she also didn't seek the star treatment. Attention means questions, the ones about her gender that have overwhelmed her since she destroyed the field at the 2009 World Championships.

It was a victory that prompted some opponents and officials to ask, is she really a woman? It lead track and field's international governing body to create a rule - which last year was suspended - limiting testosterone levels in female competitors. It was a rule based on how Semenya looks and sounds and runs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And toward Semenya.

GOLDMAN: She crossed the finish line last night first, about seven strides ahead of second place. In the interview area afterwards, Semenya was asked whether she could've gone for a world record.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CASTER SEMENYA: It was not all about running fast. It was all about running a good race. You know, I came here, I wanted to run a good championship. So yeah, it's just fantastic.

GOLDMAN: Did Semenya run to her full potential, or did she hold back because a blowout win would kick the beehive of controversy? Even without the blowout, the questions came. At a post-race press conference, the answers didn't.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

SEMENYA: Excuse me, my friend, I think tonight is all about performance. We're not here to talk about some speculations, so thank you.

GOLDMAN: But later, Semenya did allude to what she's experienced. It came as she explained why she believes sports can unite the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

SEMENYA: It's all about loving one another. It's not all about discriminating people. It's not all about looking at people - how they look, how they speak. You know, it's not about being muscular. It's all about sports.

GOLDMAN: For many involved in this complex issue, it's also about fairness. Semenya was a sympathetic figure last night, but so were several of her frustrated competitors. Scotland's Lynsey Sharp told the BBC how hard it is to run against Semenya with the testosterone rules suspended. But all we can do, she said, is give it our best. Tom Goldman, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.