Indian runner stripped of medal after a gender-test, empathizes with Semenya

By Ramachandra Maniappa
FOR THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

PUDUKKOTTAI, India (AP) — Considering suicide after be­ing stripped of her medal and shunned by the people around her, Indian runner Santhi Soundarajan knows a bit about what Caster Se­menya is going through.

Soundarajan failed a gender test after finishing second in the women’s 800-meter race at the 2006 Asian Games and was forced to return her silver medal.

Semenya, the 800-meter race world champion from South Af­rica, who has been going through the same test to prove she is eli­gible to compete as a woman, is facing the same future.

“I pray that Semenya does not go through what I’ve been through, it almost drove me to committing suicide,” Soundara­jan, now 28, told The Associated Press on Sept. 19 in an interview in her southern Indian home­town. “I’ve suffered immensely due to the stigma of the failed gender test.”

Soundarajan, who came from a poor family, was forced to drop out of competitive athletics after she failed the gender test in Doha, Qatar. Finding a job and earning enough money to eat became a daily struggle.

Semenya also comes from poverty, but she managed to win the 800-meter race at the worlds in 1 minute, 55.45 seconds — 2.45 seconds ahead of her closest competitor. It was the best time in the world this year.

Before the race even started, however, the IAAF said it had or­dered gender tests to be done on Semenya because questions had been raised about her muscular physique and recent stunning im­provement in times.

The IAAF has refused to con­firm or deny Australian media reports saying the tests show that Semenya has both male and fe­male sex organs.

It has said the test results are being studied and a decision on whether she will be allowed to compete in women’s events is expected in November.

Soundarajan, however, wasn’t surprised that the issue has come up again so soon after her own ordeal.

“With so much of workload athletes go through, there will be hormonal changes. It’s bound to happen,” said Soundarajan, who has been coaching poor children for the last two years. “The authorities should bear this in mind when they make decisions.

“I cannot forget what I had to go through after my Asian Games medal was taken back. I hail from a poor family, and no one would give me a job. My entire family suffered as people began looking at me with a jaundiced eye, treating me like a cheat.”

Soundarajan is hoping Semenya doesn’t have to go through a similar experience.

“I do not know about Semenya’s family conditions and support, but I hope she does not lose heart,” Soundarajan said.

It was through coaching children that Soundarajan was able to change her life for the better.

“It was a tough decision. I was still reeling under the impact of a trauma, but had no available options or choices to make … so coaching it was,” Soundarajan said. “Coaching has given me immense satisfaction, especially as these young boys and girls are now competing for medals in the state competitions.

“During school vacations, I get to train more than 60 boys and girls. The facilities are not very good, but I was delighted when my wards secured the first and third positions in the three-mile run during last year’s Chennai Marathon. This year, they’ll win the top three places.”

She states that getting her own medal back would be a dream come true.

The Athletics Federation of India has publicly state that it might consider asking for its return from the Olympic Council of Asia.

“I’ll run miles to accept it back. It will change my life,” Soundarajan said. “I do hope that people will treat me better when I am relieved of that stigma.” ♦

One Response to “Indian runner stripped of medal after a gender-test, empathizes with Semenya”

  1. Wayne Pratt says:

    Semenya was first victimized by her/his own Country. Leonard Chuene, head of the S. African track, admitted to lying about gender tests done on Semenya. His motives were nebulous, but he claims he did not want to embarrass Semenya. That being said, those of you who think Semenya should keep the medal are wrong. The Womens 800 meter race is just that. All the women in the race have hopes and dreams of glory just like Semenya and deserve a honest and equal opportunity to win. The goal of the competition is to have an “apples to apples” sense of fairness, thus the drug screening for steroids and enhancing drugs that would give a runner a decided advantage. From what I have read, Semenya has no uterus or ovaries, but does have enternal testicals that put her testosterone level at three times the level for the average woman. I fully understand Semenya may not have even known about her condition, but that does not in any way justify giving her an unfair advantage over the other females in the race. If she really wanted to prove something, let her take testosterone to get to the level of the average male competitor (if she/he is not already there) and compete against the males.

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