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Teammate gives Caster Semenya perfect score on handling controversy

August 23, 2009 | 11:50 am


To those who want to pass judgment on South African runner Caster Semenya simply based on how she looks, the picture above is Exhibit A.

But her teammate, Godfrey Khotso Mokoena, has a different view of Semenya's pose.

"I think she is doing it to show she is physically strong and to emphasize she is mentally strong,'' Mokoena said after winning the world championship silver medal in the men's long jump Saturday night.

It was South Africa's second medal of the meet, following the gold Semenya won in the 800 meters Wednesday. Within seconds of that victory, a firestorm erupted over whether Semenya should be allowed to compete with women, a controversy the international track federation prompted by launching an investigation into the matter.

"I think it's unfair, but these things happen,'' Mokoena said. "One just has to stay positive, which she was.  I give her 10 out of 10 for that.''

Semenya's story has been one of the more widely viewed on the Internet over the last few days, especially after the Italian and Russian runners who finished 5th and 6th in the final said they did not think the 18-year-old Semenya is a woman.

"It hasn't affected us [the South African team] at all,'' Mokoena said, "and I think she is the best thing that has happened to South African track and field right now.''

Mokoena said he saw Semenya celebrating his world medal at the stadium Saturday night.

"She has no problem,'' he said. "She is happy. If I was 18 and won a gold medal, I would be happy too.''

-- Philip Hersh in Berlin

Photo: Caster Semenya in a show of strength after winning the world title at 800 meters. Credit: Olivier Morin / Getty Images