Olympic winning track star Caster Semenya has continuously had to fight to prove her skill and prowess as a world-class athlete. In the past, the South African born runner has had to fight claims that she unfairly won her titles due to increased levels of testosterone causing some officials to go as far as to question her gender. Now, Semenya is saying she even offered to reveal intimate aspects of her body to athletic officials when she was only 18 years old to prove her gender as female.
During an interview with HBO Real Sports, the double Olympic champion also accused the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) track and field’s world governing body of making her take medication if she wanted to continue to compete. Semenya says taking the meds “tortured” her and left her fearing she was going to have a heart attack.
Semenya reflected during the interview on her experience at the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Berlin, where she won the 800-meter title as an 18-year-old rookie. The dominance in which she bestowed, mixed with her muscular physique, led the sport’s governing body to insist the teenage undergo “sex tests” causing a firestorm of controversy.
“I told them, ‘It’s fine. I’m a female. I don’t care. If you want to see I’m a woman, I will show you my vagina. Alright?’” Semenya said of track officials from the governing body, who she says believed that she “probably” had a penis.
After her world title win, Semenya says she was forced by the international federation to take medication that artificially lowered her naturally high testosterone if she wanted to compete against other women runners.
“It made me sick, made me gain weight, panic attacks. I didn’t know if I was ever going to have a heart attack,” Semenya said while describing her reaction to the medication. “It’s like stabbing yourself with a knife every day. But I had no choice. I’m 18, I want to run. I want to make it to (the) Olympics, that’s the only option for me. But I had to make it work.”
In 2019, Semenya was barred from defending her 800-meter world champion title after a Swiss court ruled she could not compete against women unless she takes testosterone-suppressing drugs.
"I am very disappointed to be kept from defending my hard-earned title, but this will not deter me from continuing my fight for the human rights of all of the female athletes concerned," Semenya said in a statement at the time, according to The Washington Post.
Semenya, 31, was born with the typical male XY chromosome pattern and a condition that results when an individual exhibits male and female biological characteristics as well as higher testosterone levels than average “female range.”
According to the Associated Press, requiring athletes to take medication to alter natural hormone levels in order to compete in sports has been criticized by medical experts as being unethical. It isn’t clear what medication was given to Semenya nor what dosage she had to take to lower her testosterone levels.
Watch a segment of Caster Semenya's interview with HBO Real Sports below.