Caster Semenya, a South African teenager, will stand on the podium in the Olympic Stadium on Thursday night as winner of the women’s 800 metres alongside Britain’s bronze medallist Jenny Meadows.
Last month, at a petrol station in Johannesburg, attendants refused to allow Semenya to use the ladies’ toilet because they thought she was a man.
‘Caster just laughed, she asked if they would like her to take off her pants to show them she was a woman,’ said her coach Michael Seme.
Nobody in the athletics world was laughing on Wednesday night. The IAAF admitted four hours before the final that it had started a gender verification process of 18-year-old Semenya, the fifth youngest winner in the championships’ history.
It will involve a gynaecologist, psychologist, geneticist and endocrinologist verifying whether her birth certificate is right in declaring her female.
This tragic situation for the girl has occurred because Athletics South Africa refused to check for themselves before entering her, even though doubts were expressed last year when she improved by 11 seconds.
The IAAF admitted it was responsible for the present challenge. Her muscular development, the narrowness of her figure, a deep voice and a masculine look all demanded answers.
Rumours spread from South Africa across the internet but the ASA, sensing a rare medal, chose to look elsewhere.
‘This is not an issue of cheating. It is a natural condition, not something she has done to herself,’ said Nick Davies, the IAAF director of communications.
‘We have no conclusions yet and have run out of time (before the race). It would be terribly wrong to withdraw an athlete (without evidence).’
Her coach has no doubts. ‘I can give you the numbers of her room-mates in Berlin.
'They have already seen her naked in the shower.’
Jubilant: Meadows after securing bronze
But Dr Ross Tucker, an exercise psychologist, said yesterday: ‘Private parts do not answer the question. The absence of male organs is not proof.
'Even genetic testing cannot determine for certain.’
Since verification of all female athletes was ended by the IOC in 2000, two women are known to have been declared men after the challenge process. Semenya did not even get through the first round at last year’s World Junior Championships but three months later broke Zola Budd’s South African junior record.
She cut another four seconds off last month to lead the world rankings.
Last night, she ran another second faster in 1:55.45. Her medal will be on loan until the experts’ verdict in ‘a matter of weeks’.
Meadows, who won the bronze in a career best 1:57.93 behind Kenya’s Olympic silver medallist Janeth Jepkosgei may yet be promoted to silver.
Britain will be represented in tomorrow’s 400m final by Michael Bingham, who ran for the US until 2005. He obtained a British passport last year through his London-based father’s nationality.
He performed impressively to push defending champion Jeremy Wariner in a personal best 44.74.