Nine years after winning her first world title, Caster Semenya has two big boxes left to tick in order to be ranked among the greatest middle-distance runners of all time, and though she has been tipped to rattle the world record this season, she insists an elusive Commonwealth Games title is top of her list of priorities.
Having secured 800m gold medals at the World Championships, Olympic Games, African Championships and African Games, Semenya had already cemented her place as the best two-lap specialist of her generation over the last decade.
After returning from an enforced hiatus from the track in 2010, however, she pulled out of the Commonwealth spectacle in Deli with a back injury, and after recovering from a recurring knee injury in 2014, she failed to achieve the qualifying standard for the Glasgow Games.
Making her debut at the quadrennial multi-sport event, Semenya was announced as the flag bearer for next week’s opening ceremony on Australia’s Gold Coast.
“It’s quite special. I feel honoured and privileged to be able to lead the team onto the field,” said Semenya, who was also the flag bearer at the 2012 London Olympics.
The versatile 27-year-old athlete, who was targeting the 800m/1 500m double in Gold Coast, climbed to eighth place in the all-time world rankings over the two-lap distance when she won the world title in 1:55.16 in London last year.
Needing to find another 1.89 seconds to eclipse Czech athlete Jarmila Kratochvilova’s 35-year-old global mark, Semenya remained typically unconcerned about chasing fast times, focussing instead on the top step of the podium.
She had displayed impressive form on the domestic circuit this year, setting a national 1 000m record of 2:35.43, winning the SA 800m title in Pretoria in 1:57.80, and clocking 4:02.50 in a choppy wind at the Liquid Telecom Grand Prix in Paarl, just 0.69 outside Zola Budd’s 34-year-old national mark.
Set to line up as the favourite for the two-lap crown, Semenya hoped to cap off an impressive collection.
“If you can win gold at every major championship, it shows the character of an athlete and ranks you among the greatest of all time, so it’s not about records, it’s about the number of medals you can win,” she said.
While her credentials might suggest the Commonwealth title could be a minor goal for the global star, a gold medal would assist in realising a dream she had clung to since she was a teenager.
“If you can accomplish that collection, it ranks you as one of the best,” Semenya said.
“That’s my dream, and I strive for greatness.”