Caster Semenya had heard the taunts and whispers - that she was different from other girls. Now the most intimate details of her anatomy are news, and there is concern about how the runner, only 18 and from a poor South African village, will handle it all.
Two Australian newspapers reported Friday that gender tests show the world champion athlete has no ovaries or uterus and internal testes that produce large amounts of testosterone. The International Association of Athletics Federations, which ordered the gender tests, said in a statement that it is reviewing the results and will issue a final decision in November.
Semenya's father, Jacob, was angry, saying people who insinuate his daughter is not a woman "are sick. They are crazy."
Semenya has dropped out of sight. The South African Press Association quoted her coach, Michael Seme, as saying she pulled out of a 4,000-meter race today at the South African Cross Country Championships because she was "not feeling well."
Semenya won the 800-meter race at the world championships on Aug. 19 in Berlin by 2.45 seconds in a world-record 1 minute, 55.45 seconds. Before that, her dramatic improvement in times, muscular build and deep voice had prompted speculation about her gender.
But unless she took some illicit substance, Semenya is a female with a birth defect, said Dr. Myron Genel, a professor emeritus of pediatrics at Yale. He was part of a special panel convened by the IAAF in 1990 that helped end much, but not all, genetic gender testing.
"It's no different in a sense than a youngster who is born with a hole in the heart," he said. "These are in fact birth defects in an area that a lot of people are uncomfortable with."
Estimates vary, but about 1 percent of people are born with abnormal sex organs. They have the physical characteristics of both genders or a chromosomal disorder or simply ambiguous features. Sometimes a sexual development problem is obvious at birth. Other times, the disorder in girls may not be noticed until puberty, when she doesn't start her period. And other times, especially with the androgen insensitivity syndrome experts think Semenya might have, it remains hidden until she tries to have a baby - or in the case of an athlete, until given a genetic test.
Genetic testing of women over five Olympics found genetic gender issues in 27 out of 11,373 tested, according to a 2000 Journal of the American Medical Association article. None were men deliberately posing as women, as competitors fear.