Athlete parade brings Pretoria traffic to a halt

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pretoria - Traffic in the Pretoria city centre came to a near standstill earlier today, as hundreds of sports fans, commuters and businesspeople lined the streets to catch a glimpse of South Africa's golden girl Caster Semenya and her team mates.

Dressed in the green and gold national colours, 18-year old Caster and fellow athletes Khotso Mokoena and Mbulaeni Mulaudzi waved at the fans as their bus made its way through the halting traffic in and around the area.

The thrilled crowd erupted into loud cheer as soon as the bus made its way through Pretorius and Paul Kruger Streets leading into the Church Square.

Hundreds of people had to jostle for space on the busy streets to catch a glimpse of the three athletes who were escorted by a Women's only Bike Squad from the Tshwane Metro Police.

Excited fans pushed and shoved to get closer to Caster at the Church Square grounds. "Caster! Caster! Caster!" chanted the crowd.

The athletes proceeded to blow kisses at the fans as more people from surrounding buildings, including construction workers, stopped their work to catch a glimpse of the three.

"Thanks for the support!" was all the visibly happy 18-year-old would say to the crowd of people, who had come to greet her.

The near frenzy included men shouting "Marry Me!" and posters screaming "Welcome Home!" and "Caster, You Go Girl!"

Oupa Sikhakhane, 41, from Ekangala, north of Pretoria, was one of the well wishers who came to see the country's heroes and heroines.

Mr Sikhakhane told BuaNews that the achievement by Caster and others had really put the country on the map.

"We pride ourselves with their achievements, they have really made us proud," he said.

Oumatjie van Vuuren from Eesterus, east of Pretoria, could not stop singing praises about the country's new champions.

"They have really made us proud, I wish they could do it again," she said.

Stella Marogo, another fan who came out to support the team said: "Today I'm proudly South African because of this little girl. I am proud of what they [the athletes] did to represent us."

Another fan Sakhile Madolo said: "Caster is our African girl and we do not need to question that and we in South Africa have no doubts."

South Africans have rallied behind the team, especially Caster, after the International Athletics Federation (IAAF) last week in Berlin called for her to undergo a gender verification test.

South Africans have been outraged not just that questions have been raised, but that they have been made public.

Caster has found unprecedented backing on social networking sites. A Facebook group called In Support of Caster Semenya and African Women has thousands of members to show support for the running sensation who has received unfair treatment.

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