Caster Semenya, two years later

EUGENE, Ore. -- Two years ago, I sat on press row in Berlin and watched a teen-ager from South Africa named Caster Semenya demolish the field and win the women's 800 meters at track and field's world championships. The controversy that race triggered shows no signs of abating. Zero.

The only thing that can be said that I found truly remarkable about Caster Semenya's appearance here at the Prefontaine Classic this weekend is that she didn't win.

Everything else pretty much went according to script, and unless that script changes, and changes pretty dramatically, and pretty quickly, track and field still has on its hands a major, major challenge.

To wit: what to do with Caster Semenya?

The challenge is that nobody really knows how to proceed, and everyone seems to be dancing around the matter, including apparently Semenya herself and her handlers.

She gave an interview to a columnist to the local newspaper, the Eugene Register-Guard, that was published Friday morning, then proved a no-show for a news conference that afternoon at which she had been touted as one of the featured panelists. No one knew why she didn't show. Was she -- were her people -- miffed about the column? No one knew anything.

She came in second Saturday in the 800, behind Kenia Sinclair of Jamaica. Sinclair ran 1:58.29, the best time in the world this year. Semenya crossed in 1:58.88, her best 2011 finish.

It's early in the season; the times don't matter much.

What matters more is what happened after the race.

Semenya went to a cool-down area and, appropriately, cooled down. After athletes rest up, they're supposed to walk through a tent where they meet us, their friends in the press. The meeting area is called the "mixed zone."

The way the process tends to work at a complicated meet like Pre, and especially with higher-profile athletes such as Semenya, is that reporters ask for athletes we want to talk to; the process is further complicated here because the system is really in place for American athletes and Semenya is of course not American. But it's the best we had.

Freelance writer Meri-Jo Borzilleri, covering the meet for espnW, and I put in a request for Semenya. Duly noted. We waited.

After roughly 10 minutes, we were told, oh, she left.

Meri-Jo thereupon took it upon herself to try to find Semenya, or someone who could find Semenya. Several minutes later, Meri-Jo was back, and here, just behind her, was Caster Semenya. Kudos to Meri-Jo.

The ensuing interview lasted, according to my tape recorder, two minutes and three seconds, and that included some thank-you's at the end.

I asked Semenya whether she was ready for what seems sure to be a media madhouse this summer at the world championships in Daegu, South Korea. Those championships will be the first time most of the world's press will have seen Semenya since Berlin.

This was her response: "Press to me is nothing. It's just media. You know, always media. I'm always ready for them."

Frankly, it all seems rather silly.

Semenya has, according to everyone close to the medical and legal issues in the process, been cleared to run in the women's races.

Unless and until there's reason to reconsider the judgments of experts in their fields, everybody else needs to get with the program.

Semenya is 20 years old and there has to be some human dignity about this, and the history books would reflect better on all of us if we would get about that sooner than later.

To that end, someone in South Africa -- or if it's somewhere else that's in charge of her image -- ought to recognize that she needs some media training.

She needs -- they need -- to understand there is a natural curiosity about her.

She is going to get asked questions, and in that process there are likely to be stupid questions, maybe even ugly questions. She needs to learn to deflect them and move along.

Semenya is hugely likely to win the women's 800 again this summer in Daegu. Her race is the final individual race on the entire calendar of the championships -- at 8:15 at night on Sept. 4, immediately before the last two events themselves, the men's and women's 400 relays.

What that means is that the world's press will have the better part of nine days to write about Usain Bolt, who will already have run the 100 and 200 and will be running once more in that 400 relay, and Caster Semenya, who could do so much -- before she so much as steps foot on the track for that final -- to change the way things are to the way they should, and could, be.