Did Caster Semenya Intentionally Lose The 800 Meter Final To Mariya Savinova?

Aug 11, 2012; London, United Kingdom; Caster Semenya (RSA) celebrates winning silver in the women's 800m final during the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Semenya's failed kick in the final 200 meters fell short of Mariya Savinova, prompting questions about her late-charge strategy.

No sooner had Caster Semenya run second in the London women's 800m final than some observers found something new to accuse her of. In Slate's Olympic blog, June Thomas asked the question, "Did Caster Semenya lose the women's 800 meters on purpose?".

Thomas quoted BBC commentators who opined that Semenya "hadn't made her best effort" and "had more left in the tank." Thomas went on to mention an unnamed South African track observer who "suggested that it might be 'scandal avoidance' -- her 2009 triumph brought such unpleasant consequences that she'd just as soon avoid further scrutiny, and an Olympic silver medal brings considerably less attention than the gold."

I disagree. Semenya did spend 600 meters sitting at the rear of the pack, but she launched a scorching kick in the last 200 meters. Coming down the final straight, she was moving so fast that she made several women look like they were going backwards. It was a flash of a reminder about the enormous talent that Semenya has. But Mariya Savinova was accelerating too, so Semenya finished more than a second behind the Russian.

Semenya's huge effort to catch Savinova doesn't strike me as throwing a race.

I think it's more likely that Semenya simply waited too long to make her move. It's a common mistake by those who sit off the pace as long as possible.

Semenya is still relatively inexperienced in international competition. The 11-month hiatus from competition, enforced by the IAAF investigation of her gender, deprived her of valuable experience.

Even the recent coaching by great runner Maria Mutola was possibly not enough to make up for a lost year of racing. In Berlin in 2009, the event that first catapulted her to controversy, her strategy was different -- she went to the front fairly early in the race and stayed there. Towards the end, she poured it on to open up a big lead. Maybe front running is a better strategy for her.

I take issue with those who view Semenya's silver medal as a crashing disappointment. I hope she goes home with her medal and uses it as a platform for future development. I hope she runs a lot and gets more fine-tuning on strategy. I hope that South Africa and her international fan base continue to believe in her talent and support it. She's still young. There is always the Rio Olympics in 2016, when she'll be just 25, and other big competitions as well.

Meanwhile, some are calling for Semenya to reveal the still-private details of her gender treatment. I hope she doesn't. The microscopic details won't change the opinions of those who still look for a reason, any reason, to remove her from the track. The world has no right to view her as a human lab specimen on a glass slide. Semenya submitted to the required scrutiny and has been cleared to run as a woman -- that should be enough.

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