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The return of Caster Semenya: Olympic favourite and ticking timebomb

The South African 800m runner is back and tipped to blow the field away in Rio, but those who have followed her career closely fear that the reaction to her success would reignite uncomfortable debates from the past

It’s a ticking timebomb,” Daniel Mothowagae says quietly on a winter’s night in Johannesburg as he anticipates the furore that is likely to explode when Caster Semenya runs in the Olympic Games. Apart from being described by many athletics specialists as an almost certain winner of the women’s 800m in Rio, Semenya will suffer again as she is made to personify the complex issues surrounding sex verification in sport.

An hour earlier Mothowagae had filed his copy for the latest edition of The Sowetan newspaper. It had been a busy day with the announcement of the South African Olympic squad and, even as he relaxed into our conversation, Mothowagae spoke of his niggling worry. After a month of interviewing insiders and experts in this incendiary debate, I understood what he meant. The fierce opposition of opinion has made my head spin. Even the way in which each person describes Semenya is strikingly different.

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