Last Wednesday the South African runner qualified comfortably for the final in the Olympic 800 meter race, her specialty. I continue to marvel at the difference in tone from major media since she first broke through in international track in 2009, dominating as an 18-year-old. Back then, too many commentators made her a tabloid freak. This year, Jere Longman in the New York Times attempts an understanding perspective on the issues raised by her suspected hyperandrogenic body. So what if she simply has naturally higher level of the hormone testosterone than most other women? The Court of Arbitration for Sport realized it could not say.
I remember when women had to fight to be allowed to compete in races longer than sprint distances in the Olympics; the years when women running hard and far was a novelty weren't so long ago. The 800 meter distance was not added to the meet until 1960; longer races had to wait another couple of decades. As distances were added to major track meets, records fell. While men will almost always have a muscle advantage, there is no reason to think that women's records can't fall further, though that may take an athlete with a rare mix of genetics, training, and physical and emotional grit.
I'll be rooting for Semenya to make history in Rio on Saturday night, 8:15 EDT. I'll also be rooting for a world that can appreciate her unique abilities and, whether she wins or loses, marvel at her with respect and grace.