Viva la difference. Why Caster Semenya is running for all of us.

By Alec Hogg

Among the advantages of living in London are its excellent stage productions. Among the best is Kinky Boots, an inspirational show that celebrates someone “different” while shining a fierce light onto everyday bigotry. It also provides some inkling of what it must be like to be Caster Semenya.

Just before 4pm today, the South African athlete begins her quest for an overdue 800m Olympic Gold medal. Overdue, because if this were horse rather than human racing, she would already have had her London 2012 silver upgraded. The Russian who beat her in the final, Mariya Savonova, is one of five London Olympians recommended for lifetime bans by the sport’s anti-doping body.

South Africa Caster Semenya crosses the finish line to win. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/Files
South Africa Caster Semenya crosses the finish line. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/Files

Critics opine that Semenya’s hyperandrogenism is an unfair advantage and is like having a physical turbo-charger. Maybe. But why no similar outcry over celebrated swimmer Michael Phelps’ double jointed ankles that act like flippers? Or the physical advantage enjoyed by Manchester United’s 6ft 5 inch footballing giant Zlatan Ibrahimovich?

If gold medals were awarded for resilience, faith and courage in the face of media hostility, Caster Semenya would already own a drawer full of them. A lesser being would long ago have moved away into the shadows. Her race is for much more than the top spot on Rio’s podium. She is carrying the colours of everyone who is different. And isn’t that all of us?