The gun cracked. The runner shot forward. Her breathing was normal. She soon found her rhythm as they hit the first bend. The group at the front was bunched. The woman in green and gold held steady. As they neared the 400-meter mark, she could feel the Kenyan, Janeth Jepkosgei, breathing down her neck. As the bell went for the last lap, she increased the pace but the Kenyan went with her. That’s when it happened. Two hundred meters to go; it was like a second gun exploded. Eighteen-year-old Caster Semenya surged forward with her long, powerful strides as she tore away from the field to win her first world 800-meter title in a remarkable time of 1:55.45—a glorious victory.
It was the 800-meter women’s final at the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Berlin, and Semenya had just become the first South African to win the event.
The world was at her feet. Then the gender controversy began. Suddenly, Semenya was known for her deep voice and muscular build, not normally associated with a teenage girl, rather than her running. She was subjected to a long and public gender verification saga by world athletics. People argued over her case; petty politicians used her as a political football. Semenya was withdrawn from competition until July 2010, before she was cleared to run again—a long and painful exclusion. Many would have given up—she could have, but she refused.
Semenya came back to defend her title in 2011 in Daegu, South Korea, and was beaten narrowly in the final straight as she came in with a time of 1:56.35—a commendable performance, considering the events leading up to the race. Now Semenya plans to go one step further—she wants gold at the Olympic Games in London.
The odds, for the first time, are stacked in her favor. Since her win in Berlin almost three years ago, she has been in contact with former Olympic Gold medallist in the 800-meters at the 2000 games, Mozambican Maria Mutola.
No stranger to gender controversy herself, although all was proved unwarranted, the 39-year-old Mutola recently replaced Semenya’s coach, Michael Seme, at the end of last year. Legend has it that Mutola was caught masquerading as a man when she played in a football cup final back home in Maputo. Amid the furore, a coach spotted her running talent and the rest, as they say, is history.
Mutola dominated the two-lap race during the 1990s and into the next century. During this time, she became a seven-time world indoor gold medallist and she also added three world 800 meters gold medals to her tally.
Mutola and Semenya make a powerful team gunning for gold in July. Mutola trains the now 21-year-old prodigy in Pretoria, north of Johannesburg.
“Me and Caster have been talking since she won the World Championships in Berlin, so we’ve been in contact ever since,” she pauses with a glint of pride in her eye.
“Any time she needed advice, she would call me and then we would talk a little bit. It’s been a long-term relationship. I’ve known Caster since then, it just fell into place, so it wasn’t anything strange when she approached me and asked if I would train her.”
Since then, the duo have been specific in their targets, and Semenya recently ran her second Olympic qualifying time at a Yellow Pages Meeting in Pretoria on April 21, guaranteeing her place at the Olympics showpiece.
She ran 1:59.58 and in so doing, at high-altitude, became the first South African woman to run under two minutes on home soil in 21 years.
Now Mutola has her sights firmly set on the top honor: the Olympic gold.
“[I think] very good advice is to be in shape, to stay healthy and go to London in shape, to be able to win it.
“[Judging from] all the Olympics I have been through, it is going to take under two minutes to be able to win it. You have to produce 1:55/1:56 to be able to win the race because everyone is training for the same event—to be an Olympic champion.”
Now Semenya heads overseas to begin her final preparations by competing in Europe.
“The most important thing is to have confidence in oneself going to these European track meets. You have to be able to win over there, run good times and go to the Olympics with a lot of confidence. That is a very important thing for athletes.”
Semenya was expected to qualify sooner for the showpiece, but now that she has run the time, everything is back on track, according to Mutola as she alluded again to the gold medal.
“In terms of her preparations, I have to say it is going very well at the moment, I was a bit concerned at the beginning but I see that we are improving, we are doing the right thing. Everything is going well at the moment.
“The most important thing is for her to stay in shape and believe in herself. When she gets to the Olympic Games, anybody who qualifies for the finals has a chance of winning gold.”
Mutola believes Semenya could be the best ever. She says the world record set in 1983 by Czech runner Jarmila Kratochvílová looks set to tumble if Semenya stays on course. “I always thought she would be the one to break the world record because when she was 18, she was running 1:55’s and I think when she is about 25, and more mature, she would probably break the world record.
“If you are 18 and run a 1:55, that means that if you are 20-something, you would be able to run between 1:52 and 1:53 and that indication I see in Caster. I hope and I know she can be the one to break that world record that has been standing for a very long time.”
One thing is for sure: with the troubles of her past behind her, the Mutola-Semenya southern African team will be the hot favorite come the end of July. The history books await.
World’s Highest-Paid Athletes 2019: What Messi, LeBron And Tiger Make
Major League Baseball had a staggering run this year when, over a four-week period, a quartet of its biggest stars—Nolan Arenado, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Mike Trout—signed blockbuster, long-term deals worth a combined $1.3 billion. They ranked as four of the biggest playing contracts in the history of sports.
The deals will create generational wealth for their families, but only Trout, ranked 17th with $50.6 million, cracks the top 20 of the world’s highest-paid athletes.
The difference: Those four baseball stars generate barely $10 million in combined endorsement income while the top earners in basketball, soccer, tennis and golf all individually bank at least $30 million from sponsors annually; eight of the 11 best-paid athletes come from those four sports.
Most of the athletes ranked above Trout follow a similar path: Reach the highest levels of a global sport, and marketers swarm with endorsement deals to pitch their wares around the world.
Barcelona soccer legend Lionel Messi leads the way on this year’s list with $127 million, including $35 million off the pitch from partners Adidas, MasterCard, PepsiCo and more. Messi translates into every language.
Messi is only the fourth athlete to land in the No. 1 spot over the past 19 years, joining Tiger Woods (12 times), Floyd Mayweather (4) and Cristiano Ronaldo (2).
Messi succeeds Mayweather, who failed to get in the ring for a pro bout over the past 12 months but is likely still counting last year’s $285 million haul, which he earned largely from his 2017 bout against UFC star Conor McGregor.
READ MORE | The World’s Highest-Paid Athletes
Messi is joined by fellow global soccer icons Cristiano Ronaldo ($109 million) and Neymar ($105 million) at the top this year. It is the first time that soccer players have ranked as the top three earners in sports since Forbes began tracking athlete earnings in 1990.
Elite stars in other global sports are also extremely marketable on any continent. Roger Federer ranks fifth with $93.4 million, including $86 million off the court.
Federer will turn 38 in August and is a dinosaur in tennis years. Yet Japanese apparel brand Uniqlo signed the 20-time Grand Slam winner in 2018 to a 10-year contract worth $300 million. Federer has a dozen sponsors looking to tap the cash-rich tennis fan demographic.
Basketball’s leading trio of LeBron James ($89 million), Stephen Curry ($79.8 million) and Kevin Durant ($65.4 million) rank seventh through ninth, having earned a combined $130 million beyond their respective playing salaries.
Their shoe deals, with Nike (James, Durant) and Under Armour (Curry), are by far the biggest endorsement for each player and dwarf what an MLB player can earn pitching baseball cleats and gear.
Sportswear brands, including Adidas, have used NBA stars in China for more than a decade to help establish a foothold in the world’s biggest market, sending big names like James and Durant there every summer on promotional tours. The NBA estimates 640 million people in China watched some kind of NBA programming during the 2017-18 season—that’s nearly twice the population of the U.S.
Golf is another sport that reaches almost every corner of the globe, and no golfer has benefited more than Tiger Woods: He has made $1.4 billion during his career from endorsements and appearance fees, more than 10 times his prize money, and his net worth is a staggering $800 million. Woods ranks 11th on this year’s athletes list with earnings of $63.9 million, including $54 million off the course.
Tiger roared back over the past 12 months with his first win in five years (Tour Championship) and his first major title in 11 years (The Masters). Last year, he signed an exclusive multi-year global content partnership with Discovery’s GolfTV. Head-to-head matches are part of the deal, and most will take place outside the U.S.
The 100 highest-paid athletes earned a combined $4 billion over the past 12 months, up 5% over the previous year. The increase jumps to 16% if you strip out the one-time stimulus of the 2017 Mayweather-McGregor fight. Endorsements fueled much of the gains, with sponsor-driven income at $987 million, up 12% from the previous year.
Overall, athletes from 10 sports and 25 countries made the top 100. Basketball (35 athletes) is the most dominant sport, and Americans (62) are the most dominant nationality.
Tennis ace Serena Williams ranked 63rd with $29.2 million, including $25 million off the court. She is the only woman to crack the top 100 for the second time in three years.
No female athletes qualified last year, when Williams was just returning to tennis after a 12-month layoff for her pregnancy and the birth of her daughter, Olympia. Williams is lining up her next act with a new clothing line and a venture capital fundfocused on investing in female and minority founders.
Our earnings include prize money, salaries and bonuses earned between June 1, 2018, and June 1, 2019. Endorsement incomes are an estimate of sponsorships, appearance fees and licensing incomes for the same 12-month period (click here for a more detailed methodology and the numbers behind the top 100).
-Kurt Badenhausen; Forbes Staff
Lionel Messi Claims Top Spot on Forbes’ 2019 List Of The World’s 100 Highest-Paid Athletes
Forbes today released its annual ranking of the World’s 100 Highest-Paid athletes, who collectively earned $4 billion over the last 12 months, up 5% from last year’s earnings of $3.8 billion.
Lionel Messi was named the world’s highest-paid athlete for the first time, up from second place last year, with $127 million in total earnings.
Messi unseats Floyd Mayweather, who held the crown last year, and was the leader four times in seven years. Behind Messi is longtime rival Cristiano Ronaldo (No. 2), who earned $109 million between his salary and endorsements.
Serena Williams (No. 63) returned to the ranking, after no women appeared in 2018. Cost of admission to the 2019 list is the highest ever at $25 million, up $2.1 million from the previous year. Endorsement income experienced an increase of 12.5% to $987 million this year.
“The global impact of soccer is clearly reflected in earnings in 2019, with the top three athletes on the list being Messi, Ronaldo, and Neymar,” said Kurt Badenhausen, senior editor, Forbes Media.
“But basketball players continue to dominate the top 100 overall with 35 athletes on the list earning a total of $1.29 billion, with 72% of that income coming from salaries rather than endorsement deals.”
The list of elite athletes consists of players from ten different sports. NBA stars lead with 35 basketball players among the top 100, down from 40 in 2018, headed by LeBron James (No. 8 with $89 million).
Football was the next most-represented sport with 19 players, followed by baseball with 15, and soccer with 12.
There are 25 different countries represented on this year’s World’s Highest-Paid Athletes list, up from 22 in 2018. Americans dominate the action with 62 athletes thanks to the sky-high salaries in the major sports leagues.
The U.K. has five athletes, France and Spain have three, while Brazil, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Germany, Serbia and Venezuela all have two.
Our earnings include prize money, salaries and bonuses earned between June 1, 2018 and June 1, 2019. Endorsement incomes are an estimate of sponsorships, appearance fees and licensing incomes for the same 12-month period based on conversations with dozens of industry insiders. We do not deduct for taxes or agents’ fees, and we don’t include investment income.
The World’s Top 10 Highest-Paid Athletes in 2019:
|Rank||Athlete||Sport||Salary/Winnings ($mil)||Endorsements ($mil)||Total Earnings ($mil)|
-Forbes Corporate Communications; Forbes Staff
Young women in Soweto, South Africa, say healthy living is hard. Here’s why
Data from South Africa has shown that over two thirds of young women are overweight and obese. This predisposes them to non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. Most women are not exercising enough, and consumption of processed and calorie-dense foods and high amounts of sugar is common.
It was this knowledge that sparked the establishment of the Health Life Trajectories Initiative. It’s being run in South Africa, India, China and Canada and aims to provide interventions that can help young women stay healthy before, during and after pregnancy.
In South Africa, this randomised controlled trial will provide one-on-one support as well as peer group sessions to over 6000 young women. The idea is provide them with information, and to help them set and maintain goals for healthier lifestyles.
Researchers from the Medical Research Council and Wits University’s Developmental Pathways for Health Research Unit are running the South African arm of the study. We wanted to start by better understanding our target population – that is, young women aged between 18 and 24 living in Soweto.
Soweto is a large, densely populated urban township which comprises one third of Johannesburg’s population. Soweto is becoming rapidly urbanised, but the majority of people are still very poor and struggle to provide food for their families.
We conducted a series of focus group discussions and in depth interviews to unravel health behaviours, barriers and facilitators to wellbeing and health with young women from Soweto who had not yet had a child. We also asked them about what sorts of interventions they’d prefer to support and guide them.
The women offered important insights that showed it’s not enough to simply promote healthy eating and exercise without considering the very real environmental and structural constraints present in South Africa.
Barriers to healthy choices
The 29 participants spoke about many different facets of health. These included happiness and mental wellbeing, faith, social support, body image, and lifestyle behaviours.
They identified many barriers to healthy eating, among them the cost of and access to healthy food options. Some women also said they had little access to exercise facilities such as gyms and were afraid to exercise on the streets because they feared being assaulted or harassed. One woman said:
No, I don’t feel safe because we have drug addicts, traffic, women trafficking: it’s not safe for us to walk in the streets.
The women we interviewed painted a picture of an environment in which healthy behaviours are difficult to implement or sustain. One said:
Small businesses that are opening up in my community and they all sell fries, literally they just all sell fries…
Women told us that cheap and unhealthy fast foods are on every street corner: “bunny chow” – hollowed out bread stuffed with curry – vetkoek (a fried dough bread stuffed with different fillings) and fried chips are affordable and available within a few steps of most houses. As a result, women did not want to go out of their way to purchase healthier, more expensive foods.
Our interviewees also didn’t feel able to demand that healthier food be bought for their homes, because many were not contributing financially and were therefore not in a position to control food purchases. Women reported being financially dependant on relatives and male partners.
They also said that opportunities for physical activity were neither provided nor prioritised for women in Soweto. Some women said that a lack of facilities made it difficult for them to participate in any exercise, as they did not have access to gyms or fields to exercise.
Other women told us that there were gyms, sports grounds, parks, and even free aerobics classes at community halls in their area. However these facilities often get vandalised quickly, and can no longer be used. More importantly, they didn’t feel safe enough to exercise on the streets, perhaps by jogging or running. They also felt unsafe walking around in leggings or tights. Women were fearful of human trafficking, sexual assault, and violence – very real issues in this community.
Crucially, our research found that young women did not see obesity as a sufficient reason to change their behaviour. But they said they would be motivated to exercise and eat better if they were diagnosed with a non-communicable disease like diabetes.
This suggests that obesity has become normalised in South Africa – and this needs to be addressed.
These findings are now being worked into our interventions, and we are cognisant of the contextual realities that may affect young women’s ability to change their lifestyles. We hope that this research, along with whatever findings emerge from our interventions, will inform policy makers and motivate them to implement necessary changes in this community.
Women in Soweto and in South Africa in general need support to live healthier lifestyles. This support needs to come from policy makers. If South Africa does not step up and support young women by providing them with access to safe spaces and affordable healthier foods, and by controlling the oversupply of unhealthy options, the country may not be able to curb its ever increasing rise in obesity and related non-communicable diseases.
-Alessandra Prioreschi: Associate Director and Researcher at the Developmental Pathways for Health Research Unit (DPHRU), University of the Witwatersrand
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