• London Olympics 2012

Semenya calls on Mandela inspiration

ESPN staff
July 18, 2012
Caster Semenya is aiming for Olympic glory this summer after overcoming tough times since her 2009 world title © Getty Images

Caster Semenya says the support she has received from former South African president Nelson Mandela has served as her inspiration, and that she "feels great" as London 2012 rapidly approaches.

The former 800m world champion has experienced some harsh treatment at the hands of critics since she took gold in Berlin in 2009, with the fuss kicked up over unusually high testosterone levels resulting in a gender test and some unforgiving comments.

"With each year I experience I become more relaxed. I know now what is important to listen to and what to ignore," the 21-year-old told the Daily Mirror.

Silver at the world championships in Daegu last year came after a battle against injury, and she has struggled to get close to the 1:55.45 she clocked three years ago. However, Semenya is confident and feeling sharp heading into this summer's Games.

"If I'm at my best I feel I must win gold all the time," she said. "My friends always tell me that I'm a strong person and the best. But my head has to be clear before I run so nothing upsets me.

"Putting yourself out there takes guts. People ask questions that can make you sad. But for me I must always stay positive.

"From a young age I was a pretty good listener, a strong lady. Maybe it helped me that I never felt intimidated by anybody. Even at school I was always strong. I believed in myself."

While many questioned her achievement back in 2009 one person who congratulated her and ensured Semenya received the credit she deserved was Mandela, and he continues to serve as an inspiration.

"I never felt I would meet him. He is such a hero in South Africa. He inspired me, made me believe in what I do best," said Semenya.

"Without his support, maybe I would not be where I am today. Everything I do, I do for him."

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