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,” said a statement by the South Africa Olympic Committee (SASCOC).
Manjra told reporters the athlete’s well-being and health were priorities and while her absence robbed South Africa of a potential gold medallist, he did not want to risk serious injury with the 2011 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,” said Majra.
“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 in August, 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 1:59 mark in the 800m on September 7 in Milan.
Semenya shot to fame when she lowered her personal best in the 800m by more than four seconds at the 2009 African Junior Championships.
But 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 programme had already been hit by a number of high-profile absentees.
100m 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.
The Jamaican, who won the 100m and 200m gold medals in world record times at the Beijing Olympics, said he prefers to focus instead on next year’s world championships in South Korea and the London Olympics in 2012.
Other drawcards missing include England’s marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe, who is pregnant, and world and European heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis.
English Olympic 400m gold medallist Christine Ohuruogu, world triple jump champion Phillips Idowu and Australia’s world discus champion Dani Samuels all opted out amid health and security fears.
Kenya’s David Rudisha, who broke the world 13-year-old 800m mark in Berlin last month and smashed it for a second time a week later, is also skipping the event, citing fatigue.
He is joined on the sidelines by Kenya’s Olympic men’s 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop and women’s world 10,000m champion Linet Masai.