Semenya to carry South Africa's flag at Olympics

AP, Thursday 19 Jul 2012

Caster Semenya will carry South Africa's flag at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics

Caster Semenya
South Africa's Caster Semenya, left, on her way to win the 800 meter race at an athletics meeting in Haldesleben, Germany, Sunday July 15, 2012. (Photo: AP)

Semenya was given the honor Wednesday ahead of double-amputee runner Oscar Pistorius.

"It's such a privilege for me to do such a big thing like that," Semenya said in an audio message. "To carry the flag for the team, it's such a big thing."

Swimmer Cameron van der Burgh and long jumper Khotso Mokoena also were considered for the role, the country's Olympic committee said, but Semenya was the "ideal choice."

The 21-year-old Semenya will carry the flag at next Friday's opening ceremony in her first Olympics, three years after she was embroiled in a gender-test controversy that threatened her career and sidelined her from competition for nearly a year.

Semenya accepted the honor in a recorded message played at the announcement of the team's flag bearer in Johannesburg, which also was a farewell function for the team.

The former 800-meter world champion and last year's world silver medalist did not attend the gathering. She was in Monaco ahead of Friday's Diamond League meet, where she will complete her final preparations for her Olympic debut at the London Games.

South African Olympic committee chief executive Tubby Reddy said his body also had considered 400-meter runner Pistorius, who is set to make history as the first amputee runner at the Olympics after being named as a last-minute addition to South Africa's team this month.

Natalie du Toit, an Olympic swimmer who lost her left leg in a motor scooter accident, carried South Africa's flag at the 2008 Beijing Games and that year's Paralympics.

Van der Burgh, a world champion breaststroke swimmer, and 2008 Olympic silver medalist long jumper Mokoena also were in contention to carry the flag in London, Reddy said.

"Look, there were a few athletes in the reckoning, we just felt that Caster would be the ideal choice," Reddy said. "She's been a world champion and we expect her to win the gold medal. She was very excited and surprised.

"If we chose Oscar and not Caster, there would have been other theories. I think we're blessed to have so many icons."

Semenya underwent controversial gender tests in 2009 as she exploded onto the international scene as an 18-year-old by winning the world title at the worlds in Berlin.

She was sidelined for 11 months while the IAAF reviewed those tests before being cleared to run again in 2010.

Semenya finished second in the 800 at the worlds in South Korea last year despite struggling with injury for most of 2011 and is one of her country's top medal hopes in London alongside Van der Burgh and fellow swimmer Chad le Clos.

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