Madeleine Pape weaved her means patiently by means of a crowded room in Botswana’s Gaborone Conference Centre.
She was decided to meet up with Caster Semenya, the celebrated – and controversial – South African athlete who had as soon as been Pape’s rival.
The Australian wished to make amends with the women’s 800m triple world champion and double Olympic gold winner, who was the star of a global convention in the African nation in May 2018.
“I finally was able to approach her,” Pape tells the BBC.
“I told Semenya how much I respected her and enjoyed seeing her compete.”
This was not how Pape felt the one different time the 2 girls met, in 2009. Back then, she had thought that Semenya didn’t even belong on the identical monitor as her.
The Berlin controversy
In August 2009, the Australian was one of many runners who lined up alongside Caster Semenya in an 800m warmth on the the World Athletics Championships in Berlin.
It was one of many first instances Semenya had ever raced exterior Africa, however she was already beneath intense scrutiny.
At 18, the South African had gained a junior event earlier that yr with a time that was solely marginally slower than that of extra established 800m rivals, such because the 2004 Olympic Champion Kelly Holmes.
Semenya had additionally managed to shave seconds off her 800m private greatest in the house of solely 9 months.
But these criticising the runner weren’t accusing her of utilizing banned substances.
Instead, she was “guilty” of being too quick for a girl. Her gender was being questioned.
In the phrases of Michael Seme, Semenya’s coach on the time, she “looked like a man”.
Many in the world of athletics had reservations about her participation in the World Championships. Madeleine Pape was amongst them.
“At that time I did think it was unfair for her to compete against the rest of us,” she remembers.
Even the governing physique for athletics (IAAF, now rebranded as World Athletics) had expressed doubts about Semenya’s organic intercourse through the World Championships – information that it had requested a gender verification take a look at leaked to the world’s media just some hours earlier than the 800m ultimate.
“It was by far the easier option for me to join the chorus of voices condemning her performance,” Pape provides.
“It was just convenient to go along with what most of my colleagues and coaches were saying.”
Once in opposition to the thought of Semenya even stepping on a operating monitor, the Australian is these days a vocal supporter of the South African’s battle to compete.
What made her change her thoughts?
Madeleine Pape did not have a very good run in any respect on the World Championships.
She completed subsequent to final amongst seven runners and did not qualify for the subsequent spherical.
Semenya, then again, gained the warmth and by no means regarded again, profitable the gold medal in Berlin by crossing the end line greater than two seconds away from the opposite runners in the ultimate race.
It was such a formidable margin of victory that one of many rivals in the ultimate, Italy’s Elisa Cusma, accused Semenya of “being a man”.
Pape’s profession would finish with an harm in 2010. She then pursued an educational profession, with a PhD in Sociology and research on gender points in sport.
It is as an educational, relatively than as a former athlete, that the 36-year-old Australian principally comes up in web searches.
In the classroom, Pape noticed what she had by no means recognised on the monitor.
Difference of intercourse improvement
Semenya, now 29, has hyperandrogenism – a genetic situation that makes her physique produce increased ranges of testosterone.
Testosterone is a hormone that almost all girls have in a lot smaller quantities than males, and is related to stronger efficiency in sports activities.
In its synthetic kind, testosterone is a part of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s checklist of banned substances.
Semenya’s situation outcomes from what is called distinction of intercourse improvement (DSD).
People with a DSD don’t develop alongside typical gender traces.
Their hormones, genes, and reproductive organs could share a mixture of female and male traits.
Many in athletics argue that hyperandrogenism affords Semenya an unfair benefit on the monitor.
Pape was amongst them.
“My views changed when I went to university and had access not only to different perspectives but also to the science behind the arguments that were used against Semenya,” says the Australian.
Run on the monitor, battle off it
The outcomes of Semenya’s gender verification exams have by no means been made public and she continued to compete in worldwide occasions such because the Olympics.
However, World Athletics final yr issued a brand new ruling that forces Semenya and different athletes with hyperandrogenism to take testosterone-reducing medicine in order to be eligible to compete in women’s occasions between 400m and a mile (1,609m).
The South African challenged the ruling however has misplaced an enchantment in the Court for Arbitration of Sport.
An extra authorized problem in the Swiss Federal Supreme Court was dismissed on 8 September this yr.
Semenya refuses to take the medicine, arguing that it might endanger her well being and that the ruling denies her and different DSD athletes the best to depend on their pure skills.
As issues stand, the South African is not going to be allowed to defend her 800m title in the Tokyo Olympics subsequent yr until she accepts the medicine, whose results will nearly definitely sluggish her down.
The equity argument
For Pape, the stance of World Athletics is dangerous to the game.
“Their agenda so far has been to look for ways to exclude some women,” she says.
“They are missing the ability to listen to these women and to relate to what they are going through.”
Semenya just isn’t the one high-profile case of DSD in athletics.
In the 2016 Rio Olympics, the 800m silver and bronze medal winners had been Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba and Kenya’s Margaret Wambui, who even have hyperandrogenism.
In a press release issued on 8 September, World Athletics stood by the argument that it was pursuing equity.
“For the last five years, World Athletics has fought for and defended equal rights and opportunities for all women and girls in our sport today and in the future,” the assertion learn.
“We therefore welcome today’s decision by the Swiss Federal Tribunal to uphold our DSD regulations as a legitimate and proportionate means of protecting the right of all female athletes to participate in our sport on fair and meaningful terms.”
“She’s an exceptional athlete”
Pape, nonetheless, sees it in another way.
“The system has stacked the odds against Semenya from the beginning,” Pape says.
If in 2009 the Australian thought her rival had an unfair benefit, her views couldn’t be extra totally different now.
“Semenya is an exceptional athlete. Anyone who has won all those medals has got to have something that sets her apart,” she says.
“I don’t think that it is testosterone.”
Is testosterone actually so vital?
The hyperlink between testosterone and better efficiency is controversial amongst sport scientists.
Julian Savulescu, a professor in Biomedical Ethics at Oxford University, informed the BBC that the science behind World Athletics’ arguments is “inadequate”.
He refers particularly to the 2017 research commissioned by the governing physique, which claimed that top testosterone was answerable for as a lot as 3% enchancment in runners’ performances.
“It is a single study, conducted by World Athletics, and the full data have not been released for independent replication,” Savulescu explains.
“Semenya has been singled out above any other athlete. I don’t know why that is.”
Supporters of Semenya have usually expressed the view she is the sufferer of prejudice.
The South African athlete is brazenly homosexual, and married to a different runner, Violet Raseboya.
In July this yr, the couple introduced the arrival of a child lady.
Madeleine Pape thinks Semenya’s followers have a powerful level.
She argues that different girls athletes who dominate the game in a extra emphatic means than Semenya don’t get the identical scrutiny. She makes use of the American swimmer Katie Ledecky, proprietor of a big assortment of medals and world data, for example.
“Semenya is no more exceptional than Ledecky, but Ledecky’s gender has not been openly questioned,” Pape observes.
“But Semenya is a black South African woman who isn’t straight and acts a bit like a tomboy. She doesn’t conform and expresses her identity in her own ways.”
“So, the problem here clearly doesn’t seem to be based on her performances,” she provides.
Indeed, Semenya has not at all times crossed the end line in first place.
The South African did not win the 800m each in the 2011 World Championships and the 2012 London Olympics – she was solely awarded the gold medals retrospectively in 2017, after the unique winner, Russia’s Mariya Savinova, was disqualified for doping.
Making peace with the previous
In that convention in Botswana, Madeleine Pape was not sure if Semenya would keep in mind the one time that they had met.
So, the Australian sociologist carried an image of them collectively.
It was a snapshot of that 800m warmth in 2009.
In the image, Pape is operating alongside different rivals. Semenya is partially “hidden” behind Ukraine’s Tetiana Petlyuk and Kenya’s Janeth Jepkosgei.
It’s a picture that Pape nonetheless treasures, however with a much-valued addition: Caster Semenya’s autograph.