South African athlete Caster Semenya can add LeBron James to the list of admirers ahead of her showdown with the international track and field governing body.
James watched the world and Olympic 800-meter champion win a race last month in Berlin. He is her fan, and they’re both Nike-sponsored athletes.
“You know, in American language they say ‘you’re dope,‘” said a smiling Semenya, who wore James’ white and gold Nike shoes with a lion head on the back. “He told me to keep on working hard, I’m a special kid. I was deeply touched.”
James is just one of Semenya’s fans around the world, supporting a fight against world track officials that’s dragged on nearly a decade.
The IAAF wants to limit the eligibility of female middle-distance runners who have naturally high levels of testosterone . Semenya, who oftern chooses not to speak out about the challenges is taking control of her message, joining Nike sponsored-athletes like James, Colin Kaepernick and Simone Biles in a series of ads.
In the video “I was Born to Do This,” Semenya asks: “Will it be easier for you if I wasn’t so fast? Will it be simpler for you if I stopped winning? Would you be more comfortable if I was less proud?”
Semenya says her audience is not her critics or competitors.
“It’s just to inspire the youth, to be honest,” she said. “They see light in me. So they can see a better future.”
Semenya received the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award on Wednesday night from the Women’s Sports Foundation and Billie Jean King. Semenya flew 23 hours from Johannesburg, via Dubai, for her first trip to New York.
“Caster is a woman on a mission,” King told The Associated Press.
King and the Women’s Sports Foundation are supporting Semenya in her latest fight against the IAAF. Females would be required to take hormones to lower their testosterone to compete in international events and the Olympics.
Semenya and Athletics South Africa are challenging the proposal before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland. On Tuesday, her hearing got pushed back to February, with the possible start of the IAAF’s rule on March 26.