It turned out she did have excessive male genes because of a medical condition, but the international track federation cleared her to compete as a woman.
She won the silver medal at the 2011 world championships and is now coached by Mozambique legend Maria Mutola.
“Life wasn’t easy, but I kept dealing with the situation with help from my family, friends and management,” Semenya said. “[The gender question] is not in my mind anymore.
“For me it’s in the past. I have to focus on the future, and that’s what I’m doing right now.”
• Kohei Uchimura, gymnastics, Japan: His parents ran a gym out of their home, and he grew up doodling gymnastics routines in his schoolbooks. It’s no wonder, then, that the mop-topped Uchimura wound up winning three consecutive world all-around gold medals in 2009, 2010 and 2011. No other man has ever won three titles in a row.
Uchimura won the silver at the 2008 Games, and now that China’s Yang Wei has retired, the door is open for the Japanese gymnast to win it all.
• Ranomi Kromowidjojo, swimming, Netherlands: Her name will likely be the longest on the Aquatic Center scoreboard, and it could be on the top line in the 50-meter and 100-meter sprints. Kromowidjojo, 21, a Dutch swimmer of Indonesian descent, is one of the favorites in both events.
Her name might be new to casual fans, but swimming enthusiasts have known about her for years. She has been competing at the elite level since age 15, swam in her first world championship at 17, and at 18 won an Olympic gold medal in Beijing with the Dutch 400-meter relay team.
Her training was interrupted last year by a bout of meningitis, but she is healthy now, and the natatorium announcer ought to start practicing her name.
• Lin Dan, badminton, China: China’s “Super Dan” is back. Spiky-haired Dan is considered the best badminton player of all time, and his fiery personality (read: hot temper) makes him a crowd favorite, a la John McEnroe. He can smash the shuttlecock 200 mph and has also been known to abuse rackets and argue with referees. Lin is a four-time world champion, defending Olympic champion and five-time All England champion.
He is one of the most recognizable athletes in China and a favorite of the paparazzi, especially because he is married to Xie Xingfang, China’s No. 1 women’s badminton player.
The Olympic badminton competition will be held at Wembley Arena, and Lin is favored to win gold again. Let the Lin-sanity references begin.