Olympic notes

No easy solution in gender case

By John Powers
Globe Staff / September 15, 2009

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Beyond the crude “lady looks like a dude’’ jokes about runner Caster Semenya is a murky and delicate conundrum for the international track and field federation and a personal nightmare for the South African teenager who found herself at the center of a global debate after she won the women’s 800-meter title by more than two seconds at last month’s World Championships in Berlin.

Gender can be so difficult to determine that the Olympics stopped testing for it before the 2000 Games, and Semenya probably will keep her medal. According to a Sydney newspaper, the report prepared for the IAAF concluded that the 18-year-old Semenya, who has a masculine build and voice, has both female genitalia and internal testes, which likely accounts for her elevated testosterone level.

The question for the federation is whether Semenya’s unusual makeup gives her an advantage in a women’s event, and the answer appears to be decidedly less clear than it was in last year’s case of her countryman Oscar Pistorius, the double amputee whose springy carbon fiber legs enabled him to be competitive against elite able-bodied rivals. Scientific tests concluded that the prostheses gave Pistorius no overall net advantage and he was granted Olympic eligibility but didn’t achieve a qualifying time.

Semenya’s situation is not only more medically complex, involving everything from gynecology to endocrinology to psychology, but also more sensitive.

“This is something that touches the very soul of the individual,’’ says International Olympic Committee president Jacque Rogge, a surgeon who believes the case should have been handled with more anonymity and discretion.

Semenya withdrew from a meet last week and is undergoing trauma counseling.

“I just feel sorry for Caster,’’ said Great Britain’s Jenny Meadows, who won the bronze medal in Berlin. “It’s not a nice position to be in.’’

Though some of Semenya’s rivals are convinced she is a man, Meadows said she didn’t bring up the issue with her.

“We Brits don’t do that,’’ she said. “We are very polite.’’

My kind of town
By voting unanimously last week to underwrite Olympic costs, the city council removed a huge barrier to Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Games. If Mayor Richard Daley couldn’t sign the standard host contract, the city would have had a minimal chance against Tokyo, Madrid, and Rio de Janeiro, all of which have government guarantees. Since the bid committee has lined up nearly $1.5 billion in private insurance to go with city and state pledges, the risk to taxpayers should be minimal. Unless the health insurance battle is resolved by month’s end, though, the bidders won’t get what they’d hoped would be a deal-sealer - President Obama making the city’s case in person and lobbying IOC members directly, as Tony Blair did for London and Vladimir Putin for Sochi. As of now, First Lady Michelle Obama will be going to Copenhagen, where the bid will be awarded by the IOC next month.

A great crew
Terrific performance by the American women in the Olympic events at the recent World Rowing Championships in Poland, where the eight earned its third straight title, Susan Francia and Erin Cafaro won the pair for the first United States victory in the event, and the quad claimed silver in the best showing ever. In the eight were former Radcliffe rower Laura Larsen-Strecker (Brookline), Anna Goodale (Camden, Maine), and former Northeastern star Kady Glessner. The men, by contrast, had a brutal regatta. The inexperienced eight placed ninth, its worst finish in nearly four decades, while the four was 13th, its weakest showing since 1999. The single, quad, and lightweight four all were last in the petite finals, and both doubles rowed in the C levels.

Boxed in
A green US boxing team had a predictably weak showing at last week’s World Championships in Milan, winning only a silver medal by 17-year-old light welterweight Frankie Gomez. The Yanks, who managed merely a bronze at last year’s Olympics, earned two golds at the last global tournament in 2007 and four a decade ago. As the rest of the world has learned how to put up its dukes, the medal standings have become remarkably diverse, with nine countries winning the 11 golds in Milan and 22 making the podium. The Russians, with two golds and eight total, topped the table . . . The youngish US judo team, with five members from coach Jim Pedro’s Team Force dojo in Wakefield, came up empty at the World Championships in Rotterdam, where 10 countries were represented in the 14 gold medals. The Japanese, who invented the sport, won three women’s titles but none on the men’s side . . . Great Britain’s Alistair Brownlee and homegirl Emma Moffatt claimed the world triathlon title by winning last weekend’s season finale on Australia’s Gold Coast to finish atop the points list. Sudbury native Jarrod Shoemaker slipped from seventh to 10th in the overall standings after cramping up during the run and ending up 14th. “I’m not going to lie,’’ said Shoemaker, who’d won the Hamburg event. “That was a big disappointment.’’

Mountain climbing
Startling breakthrough for the US mountain bikers, who won their first world cross-country medal since 2001 in Canberra, Australia, when Willow Koerber took the bronze. With four of her teammates, including Mary McConneloug (Chilmark), also placing in the top 25, the Americans won the women’s team crown . . . With Alexander Artemev unable to show competitive readiness and David Sender opting to start veterinary school at Illinois, Olympic medalist Jonathan Horton is the only man with global experience on the US team for next month’s World Gymnastics Championships in London. He’ll be joined by rookies Steven Legendre, Danell Leyva, Tim McNeill, Jake Dalton, and Wesley Haagensen. Three Olympians - Chellsie Memmel, Samantha Peszek, and Bridget Sloan - plus Beijing alternates Ivana Hong and Jana Bieger are among the 10 women invited to the Texas selection camp at the end of the month. Olympic all-around champion Nastia Liukin decided not to go, saying she’s not fit enough.

Practice run
The Games still are five months off, but the US women’s ice hockey team was jacked up after beating the Canadians for the recent Hockey Canada Cup title in the test event at the Olympic rink (GM Place) in Vancouver. “They did a mock medal ceremony and we got a feeling of what it would be like,’’ says forward Natalie Darwitz, who scored the game-winner and whose teammates have won six of their last eight meetings with their archrivals. “Definitely goose bumps.’’ The Americans, who will go in favored after winning the last two world titles, will face their northern neighbors at least seven more times before February. Will so much familiarity breed contempt? “We want to play the top competition,’’ says forward Julie Chu. The squad will play twice in New England as part of its exhibition tour, facing the Hockey East All-Stars Nov. 22 in Durham, N.H., and the ECAC All-Stars Jan. 3 in Hamden, Conn.

John Powers can be reached at; material from Olympic committees, international and domestic sports federations, personal interviews, and wire services was used in this report.