Caster Semenya hires new coach
JOHANNESBURG -- Caster Semenya has a new coach in Olympic and world 800-meter champion Maria Mutola, pairing one of the great middle-distance runners with one of track and field's most promising youngsters.
Semenya, a 20-year-old South African, had been coached by Michael Seme but the two have split. With Seme as coach, Semenya won an African junior title and then a startling victory as a teenager at the 2009 world championships in Berlin. At that time, she became embroiled in a gender-test controversy that led to an 11-month suspension.
Mutola has been playing semiprofessional soccer in South Africa since her retirement and will now guide Semenya's preparations for the 2012 London Olympics.
Semenya said Monday in a statement released to The Associated Press through her Finland-based agent that Mutola agreed to coach her soon after the recent world championships in South Korea. Semenya won the silver medal in her 800-meter title defense.
Semenya and Mutola share similar backgrounds, both emerging from impoverished backgrounds in southern Africa as young runners to win on the world stage.
"Maria has been my idol since I started to run," Semenya said. "After Korea I was asking Maria if she is interested in coaching me. Her answer was positive and I am very happy now."
"Maria has had a long and super successful career," Semenya added. "She will be a great teacher for me."
Mutola, who is from Mozambique and turns 40 this week, retired in 2008 with an Olympic gold medal and three world titles in the 800. She also won seven world indoor titles between 1993 and 2006. This is her first formal coaching job.
"This is a huge challenge for me to start with Caster," Mutola said. "She is a great young athlete and already she has done very well. We still have a long road to go if we want to be the No. 1 in London. Caster just needs to take the last steps to be a professional athlete.
"I want to use all my experience to help her to understand what it means to be on the top. It is much easier to get to the top than to stay there."
Semenya was cleared to run again in July last year but was hampered by poor form and a back injury for the next 12 months before finally showing glimpses of her ability again by winning the silver at the worlds.
Semenya said her relationship with Seme had already broken down before the worlds. She trained on her own for the final four weeks ahead of the event, with some help from Mutola. Semenya said she met Mutola before her flight to South Korea, and "she was giving me great ideas."
"I want to thank Michael for his great job during the last three years with me," Semenya said. "We have had a lot of success, but during this year, and especially the last few months, I have been thinking of my own career often."
In an interview with the AP in 2010, Mutola revealed she had been contacted by Semenya for advice and on how to deal with the gender tests that interrupted her career.
Back then, Mutola also said Semenya's 1 minute, 55.45-second winning time as an 18-year-old at the 2009 world championships was "amazing" and added there was "no doubt" the young South African was capable of breaking Jarmila Kratochvilova's 800 world record time of 1:53.28, which was set in 1983.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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