Middle-distance runner and world champion Caster Semenya, 23, made history in 2009 when she drastically improved her time for the 800-meter race, prompting rumors about her gender. Born on Jan. 7, 1991 in Limpopo, South Africa, Semenya has many awards to her name due to her extreme speed and athleticism. These include a silver medal in the 2012 Summer Olympics and a gold and silver medal in the 2009 and 2011 World Championships. Semenya, 23, has tried to stay out of the media spotlight. She was the subject of a genetic testing scandal and earlier this year, was rumored to be engaged to another female athlete. Semenya lives in South Africa where she balances studies in sports science at the University of Pretoria with her athletic career.
Here are 17 things you didn’t know about runner Caster Semenya.

1. Her Father Wanted A Boy

Back in 2009 when Semenya became the focus of media attention, most people focused on the results of genetic tests. Few people, however, took the time to think about how she was actually raised. SportingLife talked to her father, Jacob Semenya, and found out that although he had wanted a boy, he was proud of his daughter and happy at her birth, saying he supported her throughout her life.

2. It Was Hard To Train Early On

The Moletije Athletics Club got international attention when Semenya became famousas it had  represented her in her early start. Semenya grew up in a poor, rural town and despite her rise to fame, her home club still faces hardship. Late in 2009 when Semenya was already famous, club runners back home were still running on a dirt road that they couldn’t use during the rainy season. The club members see her as a national hero, idol, and someone to look up to.

3. The 800 Meters Isn’t Her Favorite

Most people assume that Semenya’s favorite race is the 800 meters as this is what she typically runs and how she has won most of her medals. She told the Guardian, however, that she actually prefers the 1500-meter race. It gives her the ability to “sit back and relax” during the race, planning her time, she said. She also is worried about getting injured from running the 800-meter race.

4. No Romance With Violet Raseboya, But Friendship

Caster Semenya has denied rumors that she and Violet Ledile Raseboya, another female runner, are engaged. She insists they are best friends. In fact, she wears a bracelet with the letters “V4C” that Violet gave her.

5. Has Chatted With Kelly Holmes

When Kelly Holmes, another Olympic runner, was in Cape Town, Semenya had the chance to talk with her. Holmes gave her inspiration and advice to keep running as she would have plenty of opportunities in the future.

6. Her Idol Is Maria Mutola

Although Caster Semenya has met Kelly Holmes, her idol is Maria Mutola, a three-time 800-meter world champion. Semenya relates to her because they both love soccer, with Mutola transitioning to the sport after a running career. Semenya got her start with the sport when she was young.

7. Getting Ready To Run

Even when other runners were avoiding Semenya in 2009, she didn’t get nervous before races. Instead, she would just listen to music, relax, and get in the mood to run. She likes all types of music including hip hop, gospel, and especially the South African gospel singer Oleseng Shuping, who died in 2010.

8. She Loves South African Food

Despite having traveled the world, Caster Semenya’s favorite food is still one of the South African classics, mielie pap — a traditional porridge similar to grits made from cornmeal and a staple food in Southern Africa. When she’s in her own country, she eats some variation of it most days.

9. Gender Testing Had Been On A Hiatus

Before Semenya became a news story for gender testing, there had been a temporary stop in the practice. Gender testing for the Olympics started back in the 1960s but about a decade previously, the International Olympic Committee decided not to test anymore due to the lack of ways to do so. After the controversy over Semenya, however, it had to reexamine this decision. It was announced after her victory at the 2009 World Championships that she had undergone gender testing. She couldn’t participate in international competition until July 6, 2010 when the International Association of Athletics Federations cleared her to return to competition.

10. She Has Taken Hormone Treatments

After the International Association of Athletics Federation ruled that women need to be within a certain range of testosterone levels, rumors have abounded that Semenya is one of the athletes who takes hormones to stay within this range. This has made her appear more feminine with rounder features.

11. She sued the IAAF

Semenya sued the International Association of Athletics Federation for $120 million for everything they put her through with the gender testing. The IAAF only handed over $18 million because, allegedly, that was all they could afford.

 12. She trains with Oscar Pistorius

Semenya trains at the University of Pretoria, which is the same place famous amputee Oscar Pistorius trains. The two run on the same track but when Semenya arrived at the university, she was not yet a world class runner.

13. She was honored with a great nomination

In 2012 Semenya was nominated for Best Sporting Lady of the year in the Africa Top Sports Awards. Not the mildest of awards, the program also nominates the “worsts” of several categories so it can be a toss up if an athlete ends up in a running.

14. She outran her superiors

In 2009, Semenya beat South Africa’s senior record, as a junior running, by lowering her personal best from 2:00.58 to 1:56.72. At that time this was one of the best records in the world.

15. Her physical stats

The runner stands at 5’10” and weighs 160 pounds, according to her official profile on the 2012 Olympics site.

16. She has asked for financial help

Semenya once started a text message campaign asking her country for money,to help fund her running. Her message read “I would … like to make a request to South Africans to support me on various platforms that my team has put together…and my promise to the nation is that through excellence and resilience I will strive to live up to the reputation of being known as the Golden Girl.”

17. She’s struggled to find sponsors

Semenya’s gender test issues have made it hard for her to find official sponsors. Some close to her have said the runner is basically broke, but she did find a company to sell t-shirts and other such apparel to raise money for her.

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