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South Africans rally for gender controversy runner

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[August 25, 2009]  JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- Several thousand fans sang and danced at the airport Tuesday in support of Caster Semenya as the runner, who is undergoing gender testing after her 800-meter win at the world championships, returned home to South Africa.

Semenya arrived on a flight from Germany with other members of the South African team after competing in Berlin. The 18-year-old, dressed in her team tracksuit with her gold medal around her neck, then was brought to a stage set up in the parking lot.

"Hi everybody," Semenya told the roaring crowd of fans. Standing in a row with the other South African medalists, she gave a thumbs-up sign and waved to people in the crowd.

Looking relaxed but shy, the smiling teenager also joined in with the dancing for a short while before being embraced by her younger siblings.

Semenya also was welcomed home by her parents and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the former wife of the country's first black president Nelson Mandela.

"We are here to tell the whole world how proud we are of our little girl," Madikizela-Mandela told the cheering crowd of fans. "They can write what they like -- we are proud of her."

Semenya's mother Dorcus, wearing a traditional headdress, stood beaming at her daughter.

"She has lifted our hearts," she said. "We feel powerful because of her."

Semenya's victory came after world athletics officials said they were conducting gender tests after questions arose about her muscular build and deep voice.

South Africans have embraced her achievement, despite the questions. A homemade poster held by a fan at the airport declared Semenya "our first lady of sport."

Semenya is not accused of trying to cheat, but of perhaps unknowingly having a medical condition that blurs her gender and gives her an unfair advantage over other female runners.

On Tuesday, she later attended a news conference but did not address reporters. Leonard Chuene, president of Athletics South Africa, said Semenya would not speak because she has been traumatized by the whole episode.

Fans organized by women's rights groups and political groups, school sports teams, and some who came on their own, ringed the balcony overlooking the arrivals hall at the airport Tuesday. Others danced, sang or blew the plastic horns known as vuvuzelas more commonly seen at soccer matches.

Yvonne Maake, a 21-year-old holding a mini vuvuzela and wearing a yellow Team South Africa jersey, said she came with her family from nearby Tembisa "to welcome our champion, Caster. We want to show her support and that we love her, so she can be proud."

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The IAAF, track and field's governing body, will decide Semenya's case according to whether her "conditions ... accord no advantage over other females" after consulting a gynecologist, an endocrinologist, a psychologist, an internal medicine specialist and a gender expert.

Her genes and physiology as well as how she sees herself and how she is seen by her community could play a role in their determination.

Semenya's supporters say the allegations against her are motivated by jealousy and show racial discrimination against Africans.

"We are not going to allow Europeans to describe and define our children," Chuene said.

He didn't say what the athletics association would do if the IAAF ruled to revoke Semenya's medal, but said he had resigned from his seat on the IAAF board.

"You cannot sit when one of your own has been humiliated," he said. "You cannot sit in such an organization. I can lead Team South Africa against you, IAAF, until the bitter end."

On Sunday, Lamine Diack, the IAAF president, said the affair was handled badly.

"I deeply regret that confidentiality was breached in this case and that the IAAF were forced into a position of having to confirm that gender testing was being carried out on this young athlete," Diack told reporters in Berlin. "It is a regrettable matter and I have requested an internal inquiry to ensure that procedures are tightened up and this never happens again."

[Associated Press; By CELEAN JACOBSON]

Associated Press writer Donna Bryson contributed to this report.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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