The Caster Semenya debate reminded me of a couple of first-hand experiences of the genetic differences between the genders from my own running life (I won’t glorify it with the word “career”).
The first was during the Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town. As I crested Constantia Nek, I picked up my fellow Windhoek Harriers runner John, who was walking. He’d been trying for a silver medal – one of the most difficult to get in local road running – and had decided to do it without a watch.
Consequently, he had gone out too fast and “blown”. With some encouragement from me, he resumed running and soon we were clipping along at close to four minutes a kilometre (okay, it was downhill, but that’s not too shabby after 50km or so on your feet). We were reeling in people all the time and getting a boost from that.
From behind us, we heard a high-pitched chatter and the odd giggle. We hardly had time to turn around when two women swept past us. They were engrossed in conversation, as they probably had been since the start of the race…
“She should leave him – he’s such a bastard.”
“But, he’s a rich bastard!” Giggles.
John and I looked at each other dumbfounded. We were at the limit of our physical abilities and those women went past us as if we were standing still. Then I realised: The gossip gene beats the hell out of testosterone any day.
On a Comrades Marathon up run one year, I was struggling through Harrison Flats on the way to Pietermaritzburg. Don’t let the name fool you: after more than 60km, it doesn’t feel flat. And it is hot as hell. I kept thinking I would see a gazebo set up by the Devil, offering to buy souls in exchange for a Comrades finish. He would have been a busy guy…
One of the Windhoek Harriers, a woman in her late 40s, gave me a wave as she tootled past.
When I did some reading later, I discovered the theory that women do better in endurance events after they have babies. Supposedly it is something to do with better blood transport in the body, but I think even Comrades pales by comparison with the pain of childbirth. Another example of how we of the testosterone classes battle for athletic equality.
The one thing that running did teach me is that people are born different and that’s why they do well.
Bruce Fordyce came to Windhoek once to run a local 10km race and I marvelled at how scrawny he looked in real life … and wondered how on earth he managed to run 90km faster than I could sprint over even one kilometre.
In his book on the Comrades, Bruce had this to say: If you want to do well in athletics, choose your parents well.
That made me feel a little bit better about not having an Olympic medal hanging on my wall. Because no matter how much I trained, dieted or focused my mind, I simply did not have the genetic make-up to be a world-beater.
People who are that close sometimes take drugs to get them to that level. And that is wrong.
Caster Semenya was born that way. But the IAAF says it is wrong and should be changed chemically. Dr Josef Mengele would have been proud of you, people…