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Is she really a HE? Women's 800m gold medal favourite takes gender test hours before World Champions


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Is she really a HE? Women's 800m gold medal favourite takes gender test hours before World Championship race



By Stewart Maclean

Last updated at 6:12 PM on 19th August 2009



Enlarge article-1207653-0613853E000005DC-238_233x659.jpg Doubt: South Africa's Caster Semenya on Monday. She is today facing claims that she is actually a man


The gold medal favourite in tonight's women's 800m World Athletics Championships race is today facing claims that she is really a man.


South African Caster Semenya, 18, is set to race in tonight's final in Berlin after sailing through a semi-final on Monday in her first major international sporting competition.

She will run at 8.35pm UK time.


But the teenage sensation has sparked controversy over her strikingly muscular physique.

Today officials at the world athletics body, the IAAF, revealed that it ordered her to take a gender test three weeks ago.


IAAF spokesman Nick Davies confirmed the tests were taking place, though he said the results would not be confirmed for several weeks.

Until the results are confirmed, there is nothing to prevent Semenya from competing in tonight's final, he said.

He added: 'At this moment in time we do not have any evidence to stop her running.'

South African athletics chiefs furiously denied the claims and stated Semenya was definitely female.

Molatelo Malehopo, general manager of Athletics South Africa, said: 'She is a female. We are completely sure about that and we wouldn't have entered her into the female competition if we had any doubts.

'We have not been absent-minded, we are very sure of her gender. We are aware of the claims that have been made but our aim at the moment is to prepare Caster for the race this evening.'

Semenya was ordered to take the test after raising suspicion during an incredible performance at a junior championship.

The teenager, from Polokwane in South Africa's Limpopo province, burst onto the running scene at last month's African Junior Championship in Mauritius where she clocked 1:56.72 in the 800 metres.


The time was the best recorded in the world so far this year by more than a second.

Mr Davies revealed that Semenya's astoundingly quick performance prompted suspicions over her gender.

Experts were concerned over the way she runs and urged the South African athletics body to test her.

A group of doctors, including an endocrinologist, a gynaecologist, an internal medicine expert, an expert on gender and a psychologist, have started the procedure but it is uncertain when the results will be known.

Enlarge article-1207653-0617351B000005DC-165_468x324.jpg Semenya, right, is literally flying, both feet off the ground, as she crosses the finish line ahead of Jennifer Meadows (L) of Britain during the semi final on Monday night


The complex process could take several weeks to be complete.


'It would be wrong today to take a decision to withdraw an athlete,' said Mr Davies.

He added that Semenya is not being accused of cheated, and emphasised the test is not compulsory.


'This is a medical condition,' he said. 'It is nothing that she has done. There is a need to make sure rules are followed.

'We are more concerned for the person and not to make this as something that is humiliating.'

Pending the results of the test, Semenya could be disqualified from the event.


Semenya was today warming up for the final, which is scheduled to take place at 8.35pm UK time and will see her competing against British hopes Marilyn Okoro and Jennifer Meadows.

Enlarge article-1207653-061372CC000005DC-981_468x366.jpg On Sunday, Semenya nearly met with disaster as she was forced to jump over fallen Janeth Jepkosgei Busienei of Kenya during the 800m first heat



article-1207653-06138704000005DC-688_468x502.jpg Caster recovers after the heat on Sunday night


Meanwhile the teenager's coach told South African media she was aware of the controversy surrounding her.


Michael Seme told South Africa's News24 website: 'We understand that people will ask questions because she looks like a man. It's a natural reaction and it's only human to be curious.


'People probably have the right to ask such questions if they are in doubt.

'But I can give you the telephone numbers of her room-mates in Berlin. They have already seen she has nothing to hide.'


Gender testing was introduced at the 1966 European Track and Field Championships and first used at the Olympics during the the 1968 Mexico City games.

International Olympic Committee regulations require all athletes to compete under their gender-at-birth.

Enlarge article-1207653-01B2E0FA00000578-945_468x356.jpg Not first: Dora Ratjen of Vienna, jumping 1metre 70 in 1938 to break the women's high jump world record. Dora was later proven to be a man, Hermann Ratjen


article-1207653-061C519A000005DC-670_233x343.jpg Meanwhile Polish athlete Ewa Klobukowska was revealed to be a man in 1967


However experts fear Semenya, who has competed internationally throughout her teens, should be tested to check whether she might suffer from from a rare condition in which individuals can exhibit both male and female chromosomes.

A source said: 'In a few rare individuals there is a grey area between male and female. It's possible that she falls into this bracket.

'The gender verification process takes weeks as it is extremely complex.

'If there were ever any suspicions regarding this girl, tests should have been done at the earliest opportunity to save her any embarrassment.'

If Semenya was proven to be a male she would be the latest in a string of gender fraud cases in international athletics.

One of the most famous cases saw female German athlete Dora Ratjen revealed as a man named Hermann following high jump success at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and the 1938 European Championships.

The athlete later claimed he had been forced to disguise himself as a female by the Nazi government.

The first athlete to be caught after the gender tests were introduced was Polish runner Ewa Klobukowska, who took gold in the women's 4 x 100 metres relay and bronze in the 100 metres at the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo.

She was later unmasked as a he after failing a chromosome test in 1967.

South African athletics fans today expressed their anger at the claims about Semenya's gender.

Dozens posted comments on newspaper websites, with some claiming the speculation was racially-motivated.

One commenter, who did not leave their name, wrote: 'It just disappoints me every time that a good South African athlete comes around, there always seem to be questions.

'She looks manly, of course, but is she the only athlete who looks manly? I don't think so. Just because she has facial hair means absolutely nothing. Would they have tested her if she wasn't African?'

Another, 'Norman', added: 'What bull man! Our Caster is a woman,these European people cannot handle the fact that an African can actually be a champion in something and will always try to bring us down.'


Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1207653/Is-Doubts-raised-sex-womens-800m-gold-medal-favourite-hours-Berlin-World-Championship-race.html#ixzz0OeOpzrOK

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Woman, man or a little bit of both? How deciding Caster Semenya's gender is more complex than you might think



By Michael Hanlon, Science Editor


Last updated at 8:59 AM on 21st August 2009




The family and friends of the teenager who struck gold in the women's 800 metres at the World Athletics Championships but now faces sex tests hit out yesterday at claims she could be a man.

And South African Caster Semenya was also backed by her government, who called her the country's 'golden girl' and a role model for young athletes.

Caster, whose rapid improvement over the last year raised eyebrows, won the women's title with a crushing performance in Berlin on Wednesday.

The governing body of world athletics, the IAAF, has asked South Africa to test their star 18-year-old's gender after her muscular physique and extraordinary performances sparked speculation over whether she is really female.



But her proud mother Dorcus Semenya declared: 'I know who and what my child is. Caster is all girl, and no one can change that.'



Speaking from her home in the rural village of Seshego in South Africa's Limpopo province, the mother-of-six added: 'If you ask any of my neighbours, they would tell you that Caster is a girl.'


Here we analyse just how difficult it is to determine gender


At first thought, it seems strange that the South African runner Caster Semenya needs to take a sex test to determine whether she is indeed a woman - or a man, as rumours suggest.



article-1208012-061F1698000005DC-881_468x545.jpg Track star Caster Semenya: But is this teenage golden girl all that she seems?


One would imagine that sex is something fairly clear-cut: that you are either one or the other.


It seems even stranger to discover that the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) says that the tests are 'extremely complex', and that the results will not be known for days, even weeks.

Again, this seems to run contrary to common sense. Surely, one would think, determining one's sex is as simple as removing one's underwear and taking a look.

In fact, it can be rather more complicated than that. It is not generally appreciated that gender in humans - and many other species, too - is not just a binary affair, a simple case of being male or female.


While the vast majority of people are clearly either a man or a woman, many others are somewhere between the two - often with tragic consequences.

Indeed, while people have been making jokes for decades about burly, allegedly female shot putters and javelin throwers, who turn out - after often humiliating and invasive 'investigations' - really to be men, the fact is that such cases do not always involve intentional deception, and can result from true biological ambiguity.



article-1208012-06201434000005DC-763_468x313.jpg Evelyn Sekgala, Caster Smenya's cousin, has come to her defence and insists sh has always been female




Caster Semenya's aunt Martina Lamola (L) and her siblings, Thabang (13) and Nkele Semenya ® show off her certifcates and trophies in their village of Molejie


article-1207739-06200C5F000005DC-768_634x378.jpg Caster Semenya's family members and friends all insist she is a girl: from left, Paballo Choshi, 19, (cousin); Nkele Semenya, 16, younger sister; Shirley Rammabi, neighbour and Martinah Lamola aunt from Masetlong village at Moletjie in Limpopo.

To understand how, and why, we need first to clear up some semantics. The term 'sex' is a biological one, with a strict biological meaning.






'Sex' is a genetic marker, indicating the nature of the chromosomes in your body and what type of sex cells - eggs or sperm - you produce as an adult.


When it comes to sex, the vast majority of people are either 'male', in which case their cells contain a paired set of 'X' and 'Y' sex chromosomes, or 'female', in which case they have two 'X' chromosomes.


So most people are, genetically, either 'XY' (male) or 'XX' (female). Normally, this means you will develop into either a biological male or a biological female.






Masculine: Questions have been raised about Semenya because of her muscular build and deep voice



Your chromosomes, for example, are (largely) responsible for whether you have testicles and a penis, or a uterus, ovaries and a vagina.


Unfortunately, it isn't always as simple as that. Hormones circulating in the growing foetus, for example, can accentuate or retard the formation of certain sexual characteristics.


Too little testosterone, and male genitals, even in an XY foetus, may form incompletely, or even not be visible at all.


Meanwhile, too much testosterone in a genetically female (XX) foetus may lead to the 'masculinisation' of the external genitalia.


This may lead to a penis-like organ in place of the female clitoris, or even, rarely, wholly-formed male sex organs.


article-1208012-06201385000005DC-666_468x286.jpg Champion: Semenya has been given with her gold medal but it could be taken away if gender tests reveal she is a man - promoting Kenya's Janeth Jepkosgei Busienei to gold and Britain's Jenny Meadows to silver


Sexual 'dimorphism' - differences in the bodies of males and females - normally continues to develop during childhood and puberty.

In 'normal' males, testosterone causes bones and muscles to develop more strongly, the voicebox to expand, and facial hair to grow.


Girls, meanwhile, grow breasts, wider pelvises and start to accumulate more body fat than their brothers.


But again, there are vast differences between people - even those who are genetically 'normal'.


Many men develop wide hips and high-pitched voices, while many biological females develop slim-hipped, muscular frames, powerful muscles and deep voices.


Humans vary a great deal. It is, perhaps, unsurprising that the world of sport - in which speed, power and endurance are paramount - has produced a number of sexually ambiguous female competitors, as it is precisely these characteristics, related to muscle mass and strength, that are associated with the markers of male biology.


article-1208012-061E5FA5000005DC-945_468x286.jpg Complicated: Semenya will undergo complex gender tests as discovering the truth is not as easy as looking under her shorts


It is the case of 'intersexuality', however, that leads to the greatest degree of confusion and, often, prejudice.

As we have already seen, it is possible for a person to be genetically 'male' or female' and yet, for complex hormonal reasons, show only partial male or female bodily characteristics.


But there are several known abnormalities that can lead to specific sexual ambiguity.


So called 'XX male syndrome' occurs in people who have two X chromosomes - one of which contains a significant amount of genetic material from a Y chromosome.


These people appear to be male, but are, in fact, genetically female. Typically, they will possess male sex organs, but these will often be underdeveloped.


They will also often develop breasts and maintain a high-pitched speaking voice.


In fact, biologists now recognise a host of conditions, both genetic and otherwise, which are labelled under the umbrella term 'intersex' - which replaces older terms such as 'hermaphrodite'.


It is estimated that about one in 5,000 babies born falls into the Intersex category - although, because there are such strong taboos and prejudices concerning sex, gender and identity in most societies, the true number may be much higher.


article-1208012-061E3E41000005DC-959_468x339.jpg Easy victory: Semenya was metres ahead of her competitors in the 800m race


Intersex people may be genetically female, but physiologically male. Some will be true hermaphrodites, producing both eggs and sperm.


Many will have been subjected to 'gender reassignment surgery' after birth, sometimes successfully, often not.


I once went to a talk given by a group of doctors and biologists who were all themselves intersex, and some of the tales were both moving and harrowing.


There were stories of surgical castration and remodelling, with disastrous psychological consequences later in life.


Sex testing can be harrowing as well. The Indian 800 metre runner Santhi Soundarajan, who was stripped of her silver medal and reported to have attempted suicide in the wake of her very public gender test 'failure' at the 2006 Asian games, simply did not know that she had 'androgen insensitivity syndrome'.


This means that despite having no visible male genitalia and a visibly female body, she does, in fact, have a 'male' pair of XY chromosomes.


What this sorry affair teaches us is that sport, with its emphasis on precise measurements and defined quantities, is badly equipped to cope with something as vague and emotionally charged as human sexual differentiation.


In the world of athletics, you come first - or you lose. But when it comes to being male or female, it really is possible to be something in between.


One can only hope that the 'experts' at the IAAF take this into account before testing Ms Semenya and announcing their results to the world.

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