Connect with us

Sport

The NBA Player Standing Tall For Africa

mm

Published

on

It is a warm August day in Nairobi, Kenya, as I make my way to Emmanuel Jambo’s Emms photography studio to meet with two-time National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star Luol Deng. As celebrated photographer Jambo shoots Deng, the basketball star strikes poses with his brother, Ajou, who is also a professional basketball player. Standing at a not-too-shabby 5ft10, I feel diminutive next to them. The atmosphere in the studio is vibrant and it is obvious that family is paramount to the Deng brothers. The jovial session continues for a while as he tells me “…I was always taken care of by my family… we are tight, there is a lot of joy and we are always laughing.”

Deng’s story is an inspirational one crisscrossing three continents. His journey began in South Sudan, where he was born 32 years ago. Tumultuous politics forced his family to flee to Alexandria, Egypt, when he was five years old.

Five years later, the exodus continued with the family being granted political asylum in London. These years saw a metamorphosis from a nonchalant happy go lucky child raised in Egypt into a quiet and intuitive pre-teen.

“I became more reserved and tried to figure out the new culture and language,” says Deng.

The move from Egypt to London led Luol to begin internalizing life lessons, and cultivating the level of drive and discipline that defines him today.

“My mum was working two jobs and, at the time, I didn’t know what they were, but all I noticed was her working and working. I told her that I never wanted to see her overworking again and made a commitment to save my bus fare, walk to school and find a job,” he recalls.

Deng propelled himself into gaining work experience. He secured a part-time job at a bakery, where he would sweep the floor at closing time for a meager wage. He put these small earnings into a small personal business where he bought tubes of sorbet and resold at a profit to his schoolmates. At the end of the week, he would hand his profits to his mother.

That work ethic is probably the reason he has been so successful in his basketball career. The current 2017-2018 season is Deng’s 14th year as an NBA player, having played with four of the association’s major teams.

Luol Deng (Photo by Emmanuel Jambo)

His career began with the legendary Chicago Bulls, where he spent a decade before bouncing from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat and, in 2016, signed a four-year, $72-million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. This lucrative deal brings his reported career earnings to about $150 million.

Deng’s career has been blessed with highs as well as plagued by pitfalls. The All-Star is candid about his journey, and the challenges that have marked one of the most successful African NBA careers.

The story returns to his earlier memories in Egypt, where his elder brother participated in a short but crucial basketball training clinic run by the great Sudanese-born Manute Bol. His brother passed the lessons down.

“At a young age, say about seven, I started to play basketball and doing everyday drills that an NBA player taught my brother.”

Deng excelled in sports and at the age of 14 was awarded a scholarship to play basketball at Blair Academy in New Jersey, United States. He thrived at Blair and went on to attain yet another athletic scholarship, south of New Jersey, at Duke University in North Carolina. After a year at university, he decided to turn professional. It didn’t start as he’d hoped though. A wrist injury in his shooting hand saw him subjected to multiple doctor probes that eventually led to surgery.

“I had just turned 19, and one of the doctors I was seeing told me to start thinking of an alternative to basketball. Luckily the doctor that ended up doing the surgery assured me that though it would be a long road to recovery, there was hope.”

Fortunately, his recovery was faster than anticipated and he impressed on the court.

Three seasons later, he suffered another injury. This time the injury was both physical and emotional.

“I remember the media just destroying me as I kept missing games.”

Another series of doctor consults revealed a fractured tibia. This time he sought the holistic route and let his body heal naturally, rather than undergo a surgery that would have seen a metal rod placed in his right leg. The arduous trek to get a clean bill of health took almost a year and a half, and it paid off as Deng was announced as an All-Star the following year.

READ MORE: Basketball Bully Boys

Conscious of his roots, Deng was sending a message to African youth across the globe. He galvanized the world’s attention. A young African man that had lived as a displaced refugee, overcame supposed career-ending injuries and rampant media scrutiny, stood in front of the world as one of the best players in the NBA.

“I felt the need to show where I am from.”

When his All-Star tracksuit came off, a t-shirt branded with an African map was revealed, violating the strict NBA uniform regulations. Aware of the repercussions he was to face from the league, Deng warned his coaches beforehand.

“I basically said, ‘coach, I don’t want to disrespect you but there is something I just have to do, I’m probably going to get fined but this is bigger than what they are going to fine me’,” he says.

“For me, this was my biggest moment because of what it meant to all these kids that were watching the All-Star game and that they got to see Africa put on the map… I am proud to be African.”

During his career, Deng has participated in the NBA and International Basketball Federation (FIBA) initiative, Basketball Without Borders (BWB). He credits the NBA Vice President and Managing Director for Africa, Amadou Gallo Fall, who he fondly refers to as “Godfather” for introducing him to this program. During off seasons, he and other NBA players visit Africa for a series of training workshops for selected youngsters. Some of these youngsters have received further training in the US and a few, such as Joel Embiid of Cameroon, are playing in the NBA.

The sport is taking off on the continent.

“Time and technology is really helping the game in Africa, in terms of people realizing that there is a lot of talent here that can compete at a high level,” says Deng.

Luol Deng of the Los Angeles Lakers scores a basket over Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz during the basketball game at Staples Center December, 27 2016, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

In 2015, the first NBA exhibition game was played in Johannesburg, South Africa. The second match, also in Johannesburg, was played in July 2017 and plans are underway for more exhibition games to be played across the continent in the coming years.

READ MORE: The Kenyan Hercules Stomping The States

Deng also does his part for Africa through the Luol Deng Foundation. The Deng Top 50 Camp takes place every year, where talented youth train and compete.

As Deng enters the twilight of his playing career, he has recently turned vegan and appears slim and fit. His plans for the future? Deng says he has no political ambition, but wants to help build “the Africa we want”.

“I am very pro-Africa and throughout the course of my career, through my foundation and other business endeavors, I have started a series of things and hopefully when I retire I will be able to tie in all the activities I am passionate about and help contribute to a better way of life in my homeland and Africa as a whole.” – Written by Laura Rwiliriza

Sport

Thembi Kgatlana’s Long And Hard Road to Houghston

Published

on

By

Thembi Kgatlana’s goal was to make a living playing abroad. She is now proving to be a star of not just South African football but also the African game.

As South African forward Thembi Kgatlana crashed home a volley in the closing minutes of their African Women’s Championship match against nemesis Nigeria, she wheeled away in celebration, accepting the passionate thanks of her teammates.

Kgatlana had sealed just a second victory for South Africa over their old foes in 25 years of trying and for her, it capped a remarkable 2018 that has seen her thrust onto the global stage and into the best women’s football league in the world.

The goal provided all you need to know about the Leratong hospital-born footballer – the awareness to make the run, the speed to get away from the defender, the confidence to take on the shot and the technique to finish past the goalkeeper.

Kgatlana must be one of the quickest players in women’s football, but she has been eager to show in the last 12 months that her game is about much more than pace and she has certainly developed quickly after a first year spent at Houston Dash in the National Women’s Soccer League in the United States (US).

She was there with national teammates Janine van Wyk and Linda Motlhalo in 2018, and will return with the latter in 2019 having had her professional contract that she worked so hard to earn, renewed for another season.

She had hoped to move abroad after the 2016 Olympic Games, where she represented South Africa, but it took a further 18 months for a club to finally take a punt on her talent.

“The wait has been worth it,” Kgatlana tells FORBES WOMAN AFRICA with a broad smile, adding her debut for Dash was unforgettable despite a 3-0 loss.

“It was a moment I had always dreamed of, that I had waited for so long for and made so many sacrifices for. I’ll cherish it for the rest of my life.”

She says her goal has always been to play abroad and make a living out of football. The South African domestic scene is still amateur and cannot provide that support.

“It’s a dream I have been working towards for the whole of my life, since I started playing as an eight year old, working my way through the junior national teams, then to the senior national team. It’s been a long and a hard road, but I’m here now,” Kgatlana says.

She admits her first year in the US was an eye-opener in terms of the level of football and the commitment players put into the game.

“You really have to work hard, everyone is professional and most have been playing at this level for quite a while. They have the experience.

“It’s all about learning and adapting quickly. In life, you face challenges and it’s up to you what you do with those.

“I had to drop out of school [University of the Western Cape] in my final year to wear a professional jersey and to be in the fold to win a contract with a big club.

“I hope it motivates a lot of girls back home to show that anything is possible and dreams do come true.”

The 22-year-old made 16 appearances in her first season with Dash, scoring two goals but also providing a number of assists.

She was used a lot as an impact player off the bench, her extreme pace allowing her to glide past weary defenders in the closing stages of matches. She will want to turn those into more starts in 2019, but also understands her role within the side.

It is also something she has taken on with the national side, known as Banyana Banyana, where she has been an integral part of the set-up for some time, and was named Player of the Tournament when the team lifted the COSAFA Women’s Championship in 2016.

While one player’s career can never be defined by a single goal, Kgatlana has managed to write her name into the history books of Banyana with what is one of the more famous strikes against a Nigerian side that has been the number one team in Africa for many years.

“It was the most amazing feeling ever, because I knew that if I let it bounce a second time, I might not get the chance,” Kgatlana says.

“It’s either I hit it and I see what happens, or I don’t hit it. The adrenaline was rushing, because every time I get into the box, I’m still deciding. But at the moment, when the ball bounced, it was now or never.”

Kgatlana has announced herself as a genuine star of not just South African football but also the African game and her challenge in the coming years will be to kick-on and continue to improve.

She certainly has the drive, passion and the skill to do so, and her development into potential global icon over the next few years will be fascinating to watch.

  • Nick Said

Continue Reading

Sport

Egypt to host 2019 African Nations Cup

Published

on

By

Egypt will host the 2019 African Nations Cup finals, the Confederation of African Football confirmed after a meeting of their executive committee in Dakar on Tuesday.

They will stage the expanded 24-team event in June-July after initial hosts Cameroon were stripped of the tournament last month over concerns at the slow pace of preparations.

The North African nation will host the competition for the fourth time, and the first since 2006, after the announcement was made by CAF president Ahmad at a media briefing in the Senegalese capital.

Egypt and South Africa were the only two countries to put forward their candidacies to replace Cameroon.

It will be the first time there will be 24 teams at the tournament and CAF, after several inspection visits over the last two years, said Cameroon would not be ready in time.

Egypt has extensive football facilities, although in recent years attendances at local matches have been restricted because of security concerns following the Arab Spring revolution and Tahrir Square demonstrations in 2011.

The final round of qualifiers for the tournament will be held in March, with 14 nations, including Egypt, having already sealed their place at the finals. -Reuters

Nick Said

Continue Reading

Cover Story

‘From Zero to Hero’: The Queen Of The 800 meters Caster Semenya

Published

on

Caster Semenya, the Olympian, on never quitting, come what may.

It is August 2009 in Berlin, Germany, at the finals of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships.

It’s the 800 meters race; among the eight female runners is 18-year-old South African Caster Semenya, in a yellow track top and green shorts.

Thousands watch from the pavilion, loudly cheering as they await the gun to go off.

In the fourth line, Semenya waits too, blocking out all the noise in her head.

She takes in a long, deep breath and says a prayer.

“On your marks!” shouts the referee.

The women crouch.

“Get set!”

“Bang!”

And the race is on.

The young Semenya from Limpopo, one of South Africa’s nine provinces, runs alongside some of the world’s most famous athletes such as Mariya Savinova from Russia.

In two minutes, a winner will be crowned.

In an impressive show of might and mettle on the track, Semenya sprints ahead of the others.

With long strides, she is the clear lead.

A competitor from Kenya, Janeth Jepkosgei Busienei, then manages to run ahead of Semenya. It’s a tight race as they lead neck-to-neck.

At the sound of a bell signaling they have reached the 400-meter mark, Semenya bolts ahead of the group leaving a wide gap between her and the others.

At 1:55:45, Semenya is officially the champion.

It is a big win for the village girl from Limpopo.

“Things just went from zero to hero, so boom! Zero to hundred. It was just great,” beams Semenya when we meet her for the interview with FORBES WOMAN AFRICA.

At the end of the race, she does her signature move – the cobra – hands facing inwards and then outwards.

Holding the South African flag, she runs a few meters in a lap of honor.

Her country is proud, super-proud of its millennial daughter.

This match was the unforgettable milestone that launched the career of a simple girl from Limpopo on to the world stage.

Her name was soon going to be etched in gold.

Caster Mokgadi Semenya is the reigning Olympics and world champion in the women’s 800-meter race.

On a hot Monday morning in October, we meet Semenya in the leafy suburb of Greenside in Johannesburg, South Africa.

She arrives ahead of the appointed time with her wife Violet and her manager Becky Motumo. Her vehicle is number-plated ‘CASVIO’, an amalgamation of Semenya’s and Violet’s names.

That weekend, she had just returned from New York City, in the United States (US), where she received the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award from the Women’s Sports Foundation and from tennis icon Billie Jean King.

The ceremony was to award women who have extraordinary achievements in sport, and Semenya was one of the recipients.

As she enters the studio for our interview dressed in all-blue Nike apparel and sneakers, she greets everyone warmly.

First on the agenda for the day is makeup, something the sports star says she can never get used to.

“I like to be myself, I am true to myself. I just like myself the way I am and I don’t want anything to change in me,” says Semenya.

“With makeup, it’s the part I hate the most because I don’t like it. That’s not me, so it’s just something else. I don’t like it at all, I just do it because it is business,” she says, laughing.

Semenya opts for the natural look.

She says she loves the simple life, and has always been this way since her early years growing up in the small village of Ga-Masehlong.

As she readies, she reminisces those  years.

“Growing up in Limpopo was special to me, I’m a village girl,” she says.

“When you grow up in a big family, obviously, they appreciate you for who you are and everything you do. They support you. They don’t criticize your work, they just go with the flow and they want what makes you happy.”

Her family was extremely supportive of her love for sports.

Semenya started playing soccer at the age of four, on the street with her friends, and in the bush, where they would bet on matches.

“Actually, I was the best striker in the village [when it came to] street football,” she laughs.

“Everytime I got on to the pitch, everyone wanted me, so I was that kind of a kid.”

In a few years, the young Semenya traded in the football boots for running shoes.

“Before you can kick a ball, you have to run first. Football is all about speed, it is more about agility and how you can move.”

In grade one, Semenya was introduced to athletics and immediately found her feet as a sprinter.

But due to a lack of facilities and proper coaching at the school, she decided to opt for middle-distance running, instead of sprinting.

“With middle-distance, you can run anywhere you want and you can still perform. You don’t really need to be surrounded by mentors and stuff like that,” she says.

Semenya came to realize that she enjoyed running more than football and so traveled a lot to take part in competitions.

At the age of 12, she moved from living with her mother to taking care of her grandmother who was getting older.

“She’s a great human being. I am truly blessed to walk in her footsteps,” she says about her.

“She taught me more responsibility, how to take care of myself and how to take care of others. She also taught me respect, how to appreciate and how to accept others.”

Her grandmother supported her dreams to run, unaware then of how far it would take Semenya.

In 2007, at the age of 16, Semenya ran her first international race in Botswana.

Unfortunately, she was placed fifth and returned to South Africa defeated, but hopeful.

“From there, I discovered that there are a lot of things to learn and I need to focus more and concentrate.”

Semenya worked harder and pushed herself to become better than her competitors.

It was the beginning of her international career in sports.

From ‘zero to hero’

The year 2008 was her final year in high school.

 Semenya continued to compete whilst pursuing her studies.

She had qualified for the 2008 World Junior Championships held in Bydgoszcz in Poland in July that year.

She was one of two Africans competing in the 800m-race.

 Unfortunately, she didn’t make it.

Three months later, her luck changed.

She competed in the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune, India.

Semenya won her first international title with a record of 2:04, which was not bad for a 17-year-old.

It was a defining moment in Semenya’s career.

“From there, that’s when I knew this is my field. I need to be in command and I need to train hard. I need to be strong physically and mentally, and everything needs to be ready,” she says.

Since then, gold has become her color.

After the win and back to reality, Semenya went back to high school to complete her matric examinations – these were two fulfilling accomplishments for the young athlete.

2009 was a year of monumental change for Semenya.

The village girl moved to the big city.

She traveled 317km from Limpopo to Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, and enrolled at the University of Pretoria studying athletics science.

 While there, she trained under Micheal Seme, preparing for more career-defining races.

Semenya dedicated her time to intense  training, working on improving her running time.

She ran the 800 meters in two minutes and qualified for the 2009 IAAF World Championships, but due to lack of experience, she didn’t know much about her competitors who had been running for years.

“I knew what I wanted to achieve. It was all about running good times and back then, good times take you to winning big championships,” she says.

In July that year, at the African Junior Athletics Championships, Semenya won both the 800m and 1,500m races with the times of 1:56:72 and 4:08:01 respectively.

She had improved her 800m running time by eight seconds since winning the Commonwealth Games nine  months earlier.

She was the fastest runner worldwide for the 800m races that year. She had bested the senior and junior South African records held by South African female athletes Zelda Pretorius and Zola Pieterse, popularly known as Zola Budd.

But there was no time to lose.

Caster Semenya crosses the line to win the gold medal in the women’s 800 meters final during day five of the 12th IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Olympic Stadium.

Semenya continued to press on training to compete in the IAAF World Championship 2009 in August in Berlin.

She went on to win as a newcomer among some of the world’s best runners.

The long run to freedom

Back home, she brought more glory to the nation.

But as South Africa cheered and celebrated her, others had different plans for the teenage athlete.

At the time, news reports surfaced about the IAAF looking into the young athlete.

The reports suggested that they were conducting gender tests on her.

In a statement published by the IAAF in September that year, they declined to comment on the medical testing of Semenya but confirmed that it was indeed gender-testing.

“We can officially confirm that gender verification test results will be examined by a group of medical experts,” they said.

At the time, they were in discussion with the South African Ministry of Sport and Recreation and Semenya’s representatives, with the view to resolve the issues surrounding Semenya’s participation in athletics.

It was a dampening end to her year.

In November, the results came back.

They found Semenya to have high testosterone levels.

As a result, she was suspended from running and forced to sit on the sidelines.

Semenya’s response was released in a statement by her lawyers.

“I have been subjected to unwarranted and invasive scrutiny of the most intimate and private details of my being,” Semenya said.

“Some of the occurrences leading up to and immediately following the Berlin World Championships have infringed on not only my rights as an athlete but also my fundamental and human rights.”

Reminiscing on the events that took place, Semenya tells FORBES WOMAN AFRICA that she wasn’t and still isn’t worried about the IAAF.

 She will continue to run the race she started.

“Actually, I never thought anything about them. It was just all about me. What is it that I can control? Of course, if someone is or wants to do whatever they want to do, there is nothing you can do,” she says.

“So, I never think about such people. I always think about myself and what will benefit me… There’s nothing I can do about what organizations think and there’s nothing they can do about what I think.”

The case was complex.

 Media reports and critics questioned the ethics of their testing and their methods.

But Semenya was not the first.

 News items and academic reports suggest that sex verification tests at the IAAF started as early as the 1950s.

Dutch athlete Foekje Dillema was reportedly banned in July 1950 after undergoing gender-testing by the IAAF.

In more recent times, Dutee Chand, Pratima Gaonkar and Pinki Pramanik, all from India, have reportedly had to undergo gender-testing too.

But Semenya stood strong.

After her experience, she calls on all women to unite.

“I think we as women need to come together and support each other,” she says.

“Without that, you will still feel discriminated, you still feel oppressed, you still feel criticized in everything that you do and you will still feel like you are not recognized,” she says.

During this trying period for Semenya, back home in Limpopo, a 15-year-old girl from the small town of Westenburg was acting as Semenya in a high school play.

Caster Semenya.
Picture:
Motlabana Monnakgotla

Sevenah Adonis was finishing her grade eight at Hoërskool Pietersburg when she played Semenya for the year-end school concert.

It was also the same period Adonis first heard about the track star.

Semenya’s trial had inspired the young girl.

“My general perception of Caster Semenya  when I had just heard of her is that she’s a very fantastic athlete,” Adonis tells FORBES WOMAN AFRICA.

 “Limpopo is a very isolated place. There’s not a lot of exposure or anything, so for her to actually make it over the parameters of Limpopo is remarkable. I do look up to her and I aspire to go beyond my borders and accomplish things that she has accomplished,” she says.

Adonis is currently pursuing a degree in economics at the University of Limpopo.

The 22-year-old hopes to meet Semenya one day, but for now, she watches and cheers on her fellow Limpopo native making a global mark.

Back in Semenya’s world, July 2010 (after six months of being suspended) was when she received the news she had been waiting to hear.

The IAAF announced that she would be able to compete again.

“The IAAF accepts the conclusion of a panel of medical experts that she can compete with immediate effect,’’ they said in a statement.

The medical details and findings are confidential.

Despite the controversy with the IAAF, Semenya had been dubbed a hero by many for the way she handled the situation.

During the interview with us, she remembers what former South African President, the late Nelson Mandela, once told her when they met.

“Be the best that you can be,” he said to her.

“He just told me, ‘people can talk, people can do whatever they want to do, but it’s up to you to live for yourself first before others. So, the only thing that you can do is to be the best that you can be’,” she says.

It was the best advice she had ever been given.

Semenya returned stronger, winning every race and championship she entered.

“My goal is to be the greatest and there is nothing that anyone can do about it,” she says.

“I’m an athlete, I train and I perform. That’s me and that’s what keeps me going. I believe in myself and I trust myself and I’m always motivated. I’m a very positive person. So even if something comes in a negative way, I always find a way to put in more positive,” she says.

Semenya went on to win a silver medal in the 800 meters at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, in 2011.

But it was in the year 2012 when she showed the world her true prowess on the track.

Leading the charge in London

Semenya was only 21 years old when she participated in her first Olympic Games.

“I was more mature then I think, but I didn’t have that knowledge of understanding my body; how to train myself, you know, to calm down,” she says.

But the prestige of the Olympic games excited Semenya.

It was the opening ceremony at the 2012 London Olympics and Semenya carried the South African flag proudly in front of  thousands at the London Stadium (formerly known as the Olympic Stadium), while leading the South African Olympic team.

It was a proud moment for South Africans across the world.

Thousands and thousands cheered her on.

“It shows a great quality, especially more in leadership. So, I lead the team in and then, of course, I still have to go deliver because people look up to you. Your family, your friends, the entire nation. They expect you to perform,” she says.

One of the challenges she faced was not knowing whether all her training had been good enough for that moment.

She didn’t know what to expect.

“What’s going to happen in this championship? Am I going to win? Am I going to even win a medal?” she asked herself at the time.

“It was kind of the most stressful championship I have had in my life…” she says today.

It all came down to how prepared she was.

“When I walk onto that track, I perform. So, when I perform, I expect people to recognize my work but not just because I am me, but for the work that I do,” she says.

But once it was time for the race to take place, Semenya put all her worries aside and stayed focused.

“It is no longer about what happened last week. It’s about what’s going to go down now. We are more focused about it. It’s do or die,” she says. The pressure was on. Semenya was determined to win. Crowds in the stadium cheered waiting for the gun to go off.

“Bang!”

The runners started off.

Semenya began to pick up pace.

As she did, she looked back and saw the other runners catching up.

It was do or die.

“The main thing was to think ‘I have to keep going’. But my other mind was like ‘you have lost the race, there is nothing you can do’… But when you believe that ‘ok, I still have a chance for a medal’, you will just keep on pushing until you get the momentum.”

In the end, Semenya was placed second, behind Russia’s Savinova.

Semenya brought home silver.

It was a proud moment and South Africa celebrated with her as the whole world watched the new face of 800m.


Francine Niyonsaba and Caster Semenya. Picture: Adrian Dennis/ AFP/ Getty images

Francine Niyonsaba, an 800m Burundian gold and silver medallist, was a competitor alongside Semenya at the same race.

After meeting a few months earlier in Monaco, they had become friends.

“Caster Semenya is a good runner. She loves everybody and I think she is a very talented girl and an inspiration to all, especially African youth,” Niyonsaba tells FORBES WOMAN AFRICA.

Twentyfive-year-old Niyonsaba draws inspiration from her friend.

She says that the challenge women face in Burundi is that they feel they can’t achieve anything, elsewhere in the world.

“In Burundi, in our culture, women believe they cannot do something special in the world but it is just a mentality,” she says.

“A woman can do everything!”

Both Niyonsaba and Semenya are passionate about inspiring other women in sport and putting Africa on the map.

Caster Semenya reacts after winning gold in the women’s 800 meter final on Day 15 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium.
Picture: Adrian Dennis/ AFP/ Getty images

At the 2016 Olympics Games in Rio, Brazil, the two competed again.

This time, Niyonsaba won silver and Semenya won gold.

They met again at the 2017 World Championships in London and it was the same win again; Niyonsaba silver, and Semenya gold.

Despite the two always running against each other, Niyonsaba says on the track, Semenya has been very encouraging towards her and the others.

“As an African, she is trying to do something special. She is an exceptional girl, because you know as women in Africa we are afraid to do some things. So, Caster Semenya is trying to show everyone that women can do everything,” says Niyonsaba.

‘I don’t see myself

stepping down’

After bagging world titles and beating records, what else is on the cards for the sports star?

For Semenya, there’s no stopping her and she plans to stay on in the sports industry.

“I don’t see myself stepping down; until  I’m 40, that’s when I’ll be satisfied.”

Semenya plans to become the greatest middle-distance runner in the world and she plans to break more records.

Back home, in Pretoria, she has been running the Caster Semenya Foundation aimed at coaching and equipping children who are active in sports.

The foundation currently trains 20 children aged 12 years and older.

She plans to expand it to other parts of the country.

“My main goal is to empower women and help other young men to be better in future,” she says.

“You have to show them first that education is important and we balance it with sports. If we can perform both sides, I think we will be fulfilled,” she says.

“Education never stops, you keep on learning every single day.

“Without education, your decision-making will be weak… when you are educated, it becomes very easy to make decisions and decide what is the next step.”

In 2018,  she received her diploma in Sports Science from North-West University.

But she hasn’t stopped.

She is currently pursuing a degree in Sport Management at the Tshwane University of Technology.

It has been a big year for the athlete.

In September, she joined the Nike ‘Just do it’ campaign for its 30th birthday.

It featured some of the greatest athletes, the likes of tennis icon Serena Williams and former National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick, with each bringing social issues to the fore.

In October, she became the ambassador of Discovery Vitality.

In November, she won big at the South African Sport Awards. She took home the People’s Choice Sports Star Of The Year; Sports Woman Of The Year, and the Sports Star Of The Year.

She was also nominated for the 2018 Female World Athlete of the Year at the IAAF Athletics Awards in December.

With all her accolades and achievements, as her star continues to rise, what about her finances?

During the interview, when asked how much she is worth, the village girl from Limpopo simply smiles and says, “I’m just priceless, to be honest.” 

‘She Is So Humble; Does Not Sweat The Small Stuff’

Caster Semenya’s manager, Becky Motumo. Picture: Supplied
Becky Motumo describes what it’s like managing Caster Semenya’s busy diary.

What is it like working with Caster Semenya?

I love how driven she is… Every single day is absolutely dynamic, ever-changing. It is always a rush. When I talk about a rush, I mean in a good way, because it is a very busy period for us.

I think that having a boss like her, is unique in the sense that she is very direct. So she knows what she wants. She is very assertive. I think for me it’s those little experiences that really make it special.

What are some of the qualities that make her who she is?

People are always quite taken aback by the kind of person she is, her humility. They will try to deck it out, you know roll out the red carpet.

They want to offer her the world and she is so humble. She wants to walk in and get the job done and be professional. She will deliver everything that needs to be delivered. And she respects your time as well. She gets it done and she is out, and you know you have to appreciate someone with a work ethic like that.

What is your favorite memory of her?

Every day! I think especially the times when we are traveling, when we are brainstorming and when we are talking about future plans. She is a very animated individual.

She has an incredible sense of humour and I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t enjoy being around that. It makes working with her an absolute pleasure.

Yes, we are serious, yes, we are professional, yes, we are about the business, but it does help to have those moments of humour when she is talking like Michael Jackson, or dancing, or doing something completely out of the ordinary. And that’s a side of her people wouldn’t know about unless you are close to her.

But I enjoy that, and I enjoy the relationship that I have with her wife Violet.

What kind of a leader is Semenya?

Her time is very important to her. She likes to show up on time, she is extremely professional in terms of that.

I try to arrive at a venue 30 minutes before she gets there. But, if you are late and you are messing with her time because she has such a tight schedule, then definitely she will let you know about that. She will try and be kind about it but she is very stern, so you know that’s one of the examples.

But, as soon as she has told you how she feels, we quickly move on and it’s about the work. And I think that’s the one thing I love about her. She does not sweat the small stuff.

She does not sit and harbor any ill feelings, or spend too much time worrying about anything in the past, so we move on very swiftly.

At the end of the day, it is about getting the work done and that is what we are about.

Continue Reading

Trending