DAEGU, South Korea (AP) — With a shiny silver medal hanging around her neck, Caster Semenya is already looking forward to another meeting with Nelson Mandela.
The South African runner, who won the 800 meters at the 2009 world championships in Berlin, finished second Sunday in her return to the global stage after sitting out nearly an entire year as she was engulfed in a gender controversy.
"I was doing this for him," Semenya said of the first freely elected South African president. "He is a very good man and gave me good advice."
"He said 'Just toughen up and face the world.' I have to go visit him again now. When I get back home, I will go straight to him."
The 20-year-old South African sat back in the pack for the first lap Sunday at Daegu Stadium but then moved into the lead with about 200 meters to go. After she made the turn into the home straight, however, Mariya Savinova of Russia took over.
Savinova ended up winning the race, and the gold medal, in 1 minute, 55.87 seconds. Semenya crossed in 1:56.35 and 2007 world champion Janeth Jepkosgei of Kenya finished third in 1:57.42.
"I achieved what I wanted, which was to get back to the podium," Semenya said. "For now, I now have to work as a professional athlete, stay strong and be positive. It wasn't easy for me, but I had support from family, friends and my coach."
After winning the gold in Berlin two years ago, Semenya's muscular build and dramatic improvement in times led the IAAF to order gender tests. She was then forced out of competition for 11 months.
During that time, she threatened to take the governing body to court but was then cleared to run without explanation.
Until Sunday, she had not really come close to the 1:55.45 she ran in Berlin. And when she had to push harder to keep her gold medal in the event, she ran out of gas.
"As a normal person, you get tired," Semenya said. "I wasn't strong enough to finish fast."
Semenya celebrated both on the track and on the podium with big smiles, but she again declined to talk about her past troubles. She has been media-shy since the news of her gender tests became public two years ago, repeatedly refusing to give interviews and instead concentrating on her running.
"Normally I don't talk about the past. I'm still young and I have to focus on the future," Semenya said. "Every human being has ups and downs, so you cannot always be happy. You have to toughen up, pull up your socks and face the world."
- Caster Semenya
- Nelson Mandela