Hometown hero gets dramatic win, South African gold medalist faces gender test | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 20.08.2009
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Hometown hero gets dramatic win, South African gold medalist faces gender test

Robert Harting left it late before collecting Germany's second gold medal of the meet with his final throw. Meanwhile, Caster Semenya's win struck some observers as a bit too resounding.

Germany's Robert Harting

Harting's last throw was the decisive one

Spectators at Berlin's Olympic Stadium got a treat Wednesday evening, cheering on a local athlete to victory in the discus.

Robert Harting, on his last throw of the competition, bested Poland's Piotr Malachowski by 28 centimeters, casting his disc 69.43 meters.

The mark was a personal best for the Berlin resident, and he said the home crowd had driven him to it.

"That last meter in my final throw was thanks to this crowd," Harting told reporters. "The fans were unbelievable, and they screamed their hearts out. The crowd helped me in this final throw."

It was Harting's first world championship gold medal after a silver in 2007, and Germany's second of the competition. Reigning Olympic champion and 2007 winner Gerd Kanter of Estonia came third with a throw of 66.88 meters.

Taboo breaker

Harting's win, which he celebrated in style by ripping his shirt off for the camera and picking up the games' mascot, marked a happy end to a turbulent couple of weeks for the athlete.

Harting tears off his shirt

Harting tore off his shirt after winning

In an interview less than two weeks before the world championships he had said that he thought the anti-doping movement was misguided.

“Where there's money, there will be doping,” said Harting. “Sometimes I ask myself whether it might be better to allow doping in some form …at least that would stop people from getting so worked up about it.”

Germany's athletic federation came out strongly against Harting's statements, and he tried to mollify them on his website in the days that followed. Still, once the meet began, Harting couldn't resist one more shot at the anti-doping crusaders.

As part of a campaign on behalf of former East German athletes who had been doped in the communist era, a group had given out cardboard eyeglasses frames to spectators, so that they might show their support for taking an even closer look into doping in sports.

Harting, when asked what he thought of the glasses, quipped that he hoped his discus might spring up and take out a pair on the bounce.

The comment landed Harting in hot water with the sport's power brokers again, but judging from the crowd's reaction, it didn't hurt his popularity among fans.

Difficult question

For South Africa's Caster Semenya, meanwhile, the controversy is just beginning.

She blew away the rest of the field in the women's 800 meters, clocking in at 1:55.45, more than two seconds and 15 meters ahead of the next best runner, Janeth Jepkosgei of Kenya.

Caster Semenya (RSA) takes a victory lap after winning

Semenya's gender is to be tested

But Semenya's powerful build, deep voice and rapid improvement in recent months has led some, including world athletics body IAAF, to seek to find out whether she belongs in the women's competition at all.

The 18-year-old now faces a series of tests to confirm her gender, which officials say could take months to complete.

"At the moment there is no proof. The benefit of the doubt has to be with the athlete," said IAAF general secretary Pierre Weiss. "But if at the end it is proven [that she is not a woman] then the medal will be withdrawn."

The 18-year-old was shielded from the media, while Jepkosgei and Britain's third place finisher Jenny Meadows did not want to comment on the controversy. Jepkosgei said only that "We competed, she beat us, everyone is surprised by her."


Editor: Nigel Tandy

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