Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya has revealed the physical and emotional turmoil she experienced after having to take birth control pills to be able to compete with other women.
The 32-year-old South African runner, who won Olympic gold over 800 meters in 2012 and 2016, was legally identified as female at birth but suffers from a condition which means her body naturally produces high levels testosterone levels higher than unaffected women.
In 2018, rules introduced by World Athletics stipulated that Semenya and other athletes with differences of sexual development (DSD) had to take antihormonal medications in order to compete in distances between 400m and 1 mile. For Semenya, that meant taking the birth control pill to suppress testosterone.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, the decorated athlete said the pill gave her “panic attacks”, caused intense stress and made her “want to vomit every day” for the entire time she was was taking the drug – and she insisted she was “no threat” to other female athletes.
She also told presenter Emma Barnett that she doesn’t want the two children she shares with wife Violet Raseboya to take up athletics when they are older because of the experience she has experienced – and that it would instead encourage them to practice other sports.
Caster Semenya, who had to take the pill to lower her testosterone levels so she could compete alongside women in athletics events, says the drugs made her extremely ill.
During her career, Semenya had her private medical records leaked after she had to take a test to prove she was a biological female. The results revealed that she was born without ovaries or uterus and had internal testicles. Her testosterone level was three times what was then considered “normal” for a woman.
In publishing her memoir The Race to be Myself, she reflected on the strict conditions placed on her to compete, which required her to take a test to prove she was a woman and then take steps to suppress testosterone in his body.
Semenya remembers taking the gender recognition test at the age of 18, shortly before winning a gold medal at the World Championships in Berlin, Germany.
“For me, I was surprised to find out that it was a gender test,” she said. “I understood that it was a doping control.”
When the doctor informed her she was taking a gender test, Semenya recalled feeling like she had “nothing to hide” and authorized the test.
“I know I’m a woman,” she said.
Semenya, originally from South Africa, revealed that she didn’t want the children she shares with wife Violet Raseboya to pursue athletics.
The test revealed that Semenya’s reproductive organs were different from those of most women – something the athlete did not previously know. The test results were ultimately leaked without his consent and made public.
She revealed that she processed the information “years” later and avoided the news for several years so she could stay focused on her race.
Semenya said of the leak: “It’s a violation but it’s something I can’t control. Ultimately, it exists and it has served me well because I had to learn from it, there are people who had to learn from it.
“Now there are people who know that there are different women.”
She added: “Women with differences; These are not threats.
After her test results revealed Semenya’s high testosterone levels, she reached an agreement with World Athletics (formerly the IAAF) to take medication to alter her hormones and lower the testosterone levels in her body. .
Describing how hormones affected her, Semenya recalls: “I decided, out of desperation, to return to the racing space.”
She added: “It made me sick. I lived under stress. Every day you are not happy, you live in the dark.
“You have a stomach ache, you have panic attacks, nausea, you always feel like throwing up every day.”
Semenya described her experience as “hell” and said she ended up “not loving herself” and losing her self-esteem.
“You don’t sleep at night, you always think: ‘Why am I doing this’? she says.
Despite debate that has surrounded Semenya throughout her career as she fights to be able to compete among women, the runner insisted that her higher testosterone levels have not given her an advantage among her peers .
“There is no unfair advantage,” she said.
Barnett read a World Athletics statement that cited “more than a decade of research” in athletes with differences in sexual development that showed higher testosterone levels “effectively provide an unfair advantage in female category.
When discussing the debate over transgender women competing in women’s sporting categories, Semenya declined to comment, arguing that she was not transgender and therefore could not be addressed on the subject.
The statement added that World Athletics’ guidelines are “necessary, reasonable and proportionate” to protect women’s sport.
Elsewhere in the interview, Semenya opened up about her life since quitting competition, adding that she still runs every day but mainly works as a coach with young children – and hopes the “nonsense” surrounding her career will not happen to other young people. athletes.
She also spoke about the two children she shares with her wife, athlete Violet Raseboya, adding that she didn’t want them to follow their mother’s path.
“They won’t do athletics,” she said, suggesting instead that they take up tennis, golf or swimming.
“I have to get them away from this nonsense that women are treated like they’re animals,” she said.