Monday, 24 August 2009

Carsten Semenya: Unfair bigotry?

The World Athletic Championships in Berlin which ended last night should have been a moment of triumph for South African athletes, giving their best performance since returning to the international stage in 1991. Yet bigotry and nastiness of the highest order marred it for those athletes who have spent days and hours to prepare. Sitting in Germany this week, I was getting thoroughly sick of the narrow-mindedness of so many.

A lot have been written about Carsten Semenya but I would like to add my few thoughts.

She looks like a man her accusers say:

I worked as sports stringer for Reuters and SID (Sports Informationsdienst) in the early 1990’s in South Africa. The then long distance star of the day, Elana Meyer also had no breasts, a boyish figure and boyish facial features. She did however have a domineering husband who acted as her manager, which I suppose acted as an alibi. Today she has remarried and has a baby. Maria Mutola, the 800 metre Mozambican star was also not that feminine.

On pictures where her hair is longer, Carsten look much more feminine. I personally think it is a racist issue here; alas not coming from South African whites but from Europeans. Unlike her Kenyan counterpart she wears her hair au natural African. As South Africans we know there are many Black women in the rural areas of South Africa who wear their hair like that because they cannot afford expensive and long hairdresser appointments. And yes they do not fit in a western mould of beauty and femininty, that most Afro-Americans like First Lady Michelle Obama embrace.

She has a deep voice. Again, all South Africans speak quite a few decibels lower than the high-pitched Brits. I listened to Carsten’s one interview where she is supposed to have a deep voice. It sounds to me as low as Winnie Mandela’s voice (Or Zindzi’s). Now Winnie may have more balls than most men, but no-one would argue she is a man.

Her performance improved remarkably:

If one reads Carsten's CV and listens to what she herself said, it makes perfect sense why. Anyone who has ever been to the rural areas of the Limpopo would know that the athletic fields there cannot be compared to anything nearly approaching international standards. In fact that can hardly be recognised as such. And that is where she trained till she finished school. She also said she rested for three months – which may be logical as it is the time between school finishing and university starting. Only arriving in Pretoria earlier this year as a student, was she given the opportunity to train professionally at the High Performance Centre of Pretoria University with a trainer and excellent supervision.

As one of the unfittest people around, my power walk times through the vineyards have also improved fast this summer after regular daily walks. How much more should times not improved when such a natural athlete is training professionally?


The leak by the IAAF a mere three hours before her race and the interview full of inuendo by their press officer Nick Davies, was mean and low. Given Germany's strict privacy laws it is remarkable that the leak according to Davies, emanated from Berlin where tests were done.

What I found even more disturbing is that while she was doing her round of honour, German television switched to discus thrower Robert Harting who had just won a gold medal. Earlier in the week Harting insulted a group of former East German athletes, all doping victims with considerable damage to their health, who were protesting againt doping in sport. Harting’s trainer has links to Thomas Springstein, Katrin Krabbe’s trainer who in 1992 thought training and doping in Stellenbosch was save, because South Africa had just returned to the international sporting arena. He got caught out by the South African doping controllers.

Black Out?

Dying to see Carsten’s round of honour with the South African flag, I was seething. Here someone had just won one of the most amazing 800 meter races in history and German television determined that we should see Harting celebrating, this uncouth macho instead.

I am told that in the internal IAAF magazine distributed at the Championships every day for athletes and officials, Carsten also did not feature, nor does she on the IAAF website. Other gold medal winners did. Are they trying to erase her from our memories? Do they think she will then just go away?

But obviously the television people had something against us South Africans. They gave a repeat performance of not showing the winner’s round of honour when Mbulaeni Mulaudzi suprisingly beat the favourites in the men’s 800 metres on Sunday.


Apparently tests were done in Berlin and in South Africa, but everyone around Caster is keeping mum on the issue. Amnesia?

Zola Budd

Sources in the team say she is mentally incredibly strong: a shy, serious person who spent a lot of time on her own preparing mentally for the race. A true professional athlete. reminding me of Zola Budd. The people I know from the Limpopo area are very private people. So having your gender discussed all over the world must be shattering for her.

My advice to her is not to give up, but to use her anger positively and show the world what she can still achieve. Maybe she can takesome advice from Zola Budd who at a young age was also scrutinized and under enormous pressure for political reasons. In a 1992 interview with me shortly before the Barcelona Olympics, I asked her what makes her run?

"It was the only sport at school in which I could not hurt someone with my aggression. I get aggressive in about 90 per cent of all races. Sometimes I get incredibly angry," she said.

So Carsten use that anger! And you must have a lot of that right now!

Monday, 3 August 2009

Olewig Wine Festival, Trier

The annual Olewig Wine Festival in Trier, Germany's oldest town is ending tonight.

Once again we celebrated at Weingut Deutschherrenhof. Where else? Good music, good wine, good food. Ate lovely vegetarian Flammkueche.

This is what I wrote in my book about it. On the left vineyards of Olewig.

Annual Olewig Wine Festival:

“In the last few years we have preferred to sit in the garden of the wine estate Deutschherrenhof, belonging to the family Schieben-Oberbillig. The wines are excellent, the cuisine good and the music is normally to our taste.

The problem with German wines is that they are so completely confusing. In South Africa my favourite wine for many years was a Boschendal Blanc de Blanc or for special occasions a Backsberg Chardonnay. With the French Huguenots bringing the wine culture to South Africa, I have no problem choosing a good French wine. But German wines, even after thirteen years of living in a wine growing area, give me the jitters. Is aRiesling dry or semi-sweet? Unless it is written explicitly on the bottle, your guess is as good as mine.

Recently I have discovered a wonderful Pinot Blanc at Deutschherrenhof. And while grape varieties internationally stick to the names of their countries of origin, French or German or Italian, the Germans translate Pinot Blanc as Weissburgunder, which means the same as “white Burgundy”.

The garden of Deutschherrenhof was also a place for our children to play nearby when they were younger, safely away from mainstream pedestrian traffic, which can get very congested as the evening proceeds. And by eleven o’clock one has a wonderful view of the fireworks in the steep vineyards from their garden........”