South African athlete Caster Semenya says being nominated for a Laureus award alongside sport stars like Serena Williams already makes her feel like a winner and says the nomination is “a dream come true”.
“[T]this is one of the dreams that I dreamed, you know, from young, watching sportsmen and sportswomen on top of the world, being nominated, and then say one day, if I can be there, I will be fulfilled.”
While growing up, Semenya says her dreams were inspired by other athletes including another South African athlete who, like her, grew up in Limpopo.
“I looked up to the late Mbulaeni Mulaudzi. I wanted to be like him. Of course, Edwin Moses, Maria Mutola, but in South Africa, I looked up to Mbulaeni,” Semenya says.
The sport star has been nominated for Laureus Sportswoman of the Year alongside other high-profile sportswomen including 16-time world athletics championship medalist Allyson Felix, young swimming star Katie Ledecky, Wimbledon winner Garbiñe Muguruza and World Cup champion skier Mikaela Shiffrin.
Semenya explains how she feels “blessed” and “privileged” to be nominated amongst great women all of whom she describes as fantastic and strong.
“They are phenomenal,” she adds. “What I can say, I have one word for them: They are fantastic.”
Roger Federer, Raphael Nadal, Christiano Renaldo and four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome are among the athletes that have been nominated for the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year.
Semenya has an impressive track record, winning gold in the 800 meters at the Junior World Championships and at the 2009 World Championships, silver at the 2012 Olympics (which became gold after Russian athlethe Mariya Savinova was disqualified) and gold at the Summer Olympics in 2016. Last year in London she won another gold medal in the 800-meter race at the 2017 World Championships.
Although Semenya has taken home gold on numerous occasions, she describes the wins at the Rio Olympics in 2012 and the 2009 World Championships as highlights in her career.
“I think winning in 2009 and winning in Rio are the best moments of my life, I can never forget,” Semenya says, but despite this, the athlete says it was initially “never about winning”.
“It was about enjoying what I do, and then obviously winning comes along and then getting faster also comes along. But for me, it's just all about being on the track, being free, being what I love. I feel free when I run. I think I was just doing it for the love of sport, nothing else.”
For this year, Semenya will be working on short-term goals taking part in the Nationals in March and the Commonwealth Games where she aims to take home gold for both the 800 and 1500-meter races. The African Championships and the World Cup are also on the calendar for 2018.
These races, Semenya says, will be acting as a build-up for what she states will possibly be her final Olympics in Tokyo in 2020.
Semenya, who turns 29 in 2020, says: “[Y]ou never know where you can end up. I'm very excited. It will be my third Olympics. I'm looking forward to it.”
A win in the gold 800-meter race in Tokyo will mean a third Olympic gold medal in the middle-distance race and an historic achievement.
To date, nobody has won three gold medals for 800-meter race at the Olympics but Semenya believes it possible.
“To me, it will show that anything is possible if you believe […] also I'm doing it for the little kids in Africa, especially where I'm coming from in South Africa because our middle distance is not that strong. I just want to show that if you believe, if you work hard, you can achieve anything that you want in your life. If you set up your goals and then wake up and make it happen, you can be the greatest of them all.”
The winners of each Laureus category will be announced in an award ceremony on 27 February in Monaco.