World 800m champion Caster Semenya pulled out of the Commonwealth Games on Tuesday because of a back injury, dealing another devastating setback to the troubled event, which starts on Sunday.
Team South Africa’s Chief Medical Officer Shuaib Manjra said that Semenya underwent medical tests in Johannesburg on Tuesday and scans confirmed a back injury.
“Semenya also confirmed that she had been suffering serious lower back pain and had not been comfortable during her last few races,” a statement by the South African Olympic Committee (SASCOC) said.
Manjra told reporters the athlete’s well-being and health were priorities and while her absence robbed South Africa of a potential gold medalist, he did not want to risk serious injury with next year’s World Championships and the 2012 Olympics fast approaching.
“It would serve no purpose to have an athlete in Delhi who was struggling with any sort of injury that would compromise performance,” Majra said. “It is our medical view that physically and emotionally she would not be capable of doing justice to her talent at an event of this magnitude.”
The 19-year-old Semenya was added to the South Africa squad for the Games last month, one month after the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ended a controversial probe into her gender that saw her sidelined for almost 11 months.
Semenya had impressed since her return, improving steadily over the course of several warm-up competitions leading up to the Delhi Games, and broke the one minute, 59 second mark in the 800m on Sept. 7 in Milan, Italy.
Semenya shot to fame when she lowered her personal best in the 800m by more than four seconds at last year’s African Junior Championships.
However, the victory raised questions about her muscular physique and deep voice, stoking speculation about her gender.
Scandal erupted weeks later after she dominated the field and cruised to gold at the World Championships in Berlin.
Following the event, the IAAF banned Semenya from competition and required her to submit to sex testing, igniting a political and popular uproar in South Africa.
Almost a year later, the runner was reinstated following exhaustive negotiations between medical teams of the IAAF and her own team, which were presided over by a mediator.
Terms of the agreement have remained confidential. The Commonwealth Games track and field program had already been hit by a number of high-profile absentees.
One hundred meter Olympic champion and world record holder Usain Bolt and Jamaican teammate Asafa Powell both left the event thin on star power.
Bolt shut down his season early to prevent an injury after tightness in his lower back.