The semifinals of the women's 800 meter run took place yesterday, and the differences between the competitors were striking. One of the finalists, Melissa Bishop of Canada, could be a model:
Finalist Kate Grace looks like the Yale graduate that she is:
Joanna Jozwik of Poland is 5' 6" and 117 pounds, a typical build for a middle distance runner:
But there are also some competitors who don't look quite as feminine. Caster Semenya has received a fair amount of publicity in the past. I've written about her before, here and here and here.
While Semenya's case has been well documented, finalist Margret Wambui of Kenya has gotten much less publicity:
It should be emphasized that neither Wambui and Semenya can help their appearance. They were born that way, and to my knowledge, neither has taken PEDs. This puts them, morally speaking, light years ahead of the runners who have doped. (And for all I know, one or more of the first three women shown in this post may be among that number.)
But, that still leaves the question of whether intersex athletes should be competing as women. Semenya, who was reportedly born with outward female genitalia but with internal testes instead of ovaries, obviously has a huge advantage over her rivals. In the past, she would not have been allowed to compete. The IOC now considers it overly intrusive to conduct such tests. In general, respecting peoples' privacy is a good thing; but in this case, it seems unfair to her competitors. They compete as women because they can't compete against men, who naturally have much higher testosterone levels. In the past, some of Semenya's competitors have said as much.
But the 800 has a long tradition of masculine, muscular women who dominate the event.
Here's Maria Mutola, of Mozambique, a ten time world champion at 800 meters who also won the gold in that event at the Sydney Olympics in 2000:
Here's Ana Quirot of Cuba, a two time world champion at 800 meters who also won silver in Atlanta in 1996:
And here is Jarmila Kratochvilova of Czechoslovakia, whose world record of 1:53.28 has stood since 1983:
Kratochvilova was said to be able to bench press 200 pounds.
Again, Semenya and Wambui aren't -- to my knowledge -- taking PED's, so deserve no censure. Nonetheless, it will be visually jarring to watch the 800 final on Saturday evening. It will appear at first glance -- and second -- to be a race between men and women.
And it opens up a host of touchy issues which most people prefer not to delve into.