What’s slowing Caster Semenya down?

2014-06-15 15:00

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Barring injuries, Caster Semenya’s personal life has taken up much of her focus – as a result, her career is suffering.

This is the general consensus within the athletics fraternity as the former world 800m champion slumped to another dismal performance on the track this week.

Her dip in form comes against the backdrop of recent tabloid media reports that she was planning to marry fellow athlete Violet Raseboya, a rumour Semenya has denied.

Semenya was conspicuous by her absence from Team SA for the Commonwealth Games, which was announced by the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) on Thursday.

The Tuks Athletics Club runner failed to meet Sascoc’s qualifying criterion – that athletes must rank in the top five of the Commonwealth nations – by last week’s deadline.

The multicoded event in Glasgow, Scotland, will mark the second time Semenya misses an international major event after her failure to qualify for the IAAF World Championships in Moscow, Russia a year ago. The 23-year-old is yet to dip under two minutes in her favourite contest since August 2012 when she rallied to a silver medal at the Olympic Games in London.

Her season best of 2:02.66 placed her 10th – out of 12 – at the Diamond League meeting in Rome, Italy, last week. She currently ranks 70th in the latest IAAF top performances list.

Sascoc chief executive Tubby Reddy said: “Our door is still open for Caster but on condition that she makes herself available. We tried to engage her, her coach [Maria Mutola] and her federation Athletics SA (ASA) but we can’t get hold of her at all. And up to now we don’t know what her plans are.”

Reddy said it was the task of the new ASA board to sit Semenya down as Sascoc still regarded her as a medal certainty for the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil. The Limpopo-born athlete was excluded from the Sascoc Operation Excellence programme in March last year. The programme offers promising athletes financial, medical and scientific support. Sascoc said at the time Semenya – who won more than R400?000 in financial aid leading up to the 2012 London Olympics – did not qualify for the programme as she was not training and it was uncertain whether she would compete.

Reddy continued: “She had our support before but we couldn’t continue with her as she was injured. And when she recovered, she never said what her plans were and her current ranking doesn’t qualify her to be considered for the Commonwealth Games.”

Tuks Athletics manager Danie Cornelius said: “She doesn’t look in shape at all; she looks heavy. In my opinion, Caster’s performance went down after she left Michael Seme [her previous coach]. I am not saying Maria [Mutola] is a bad coach but Seme was more of a disciplinarian.”

Seme was diplomatic in his response.

“I don’t want to say much about this issue as my views might be misinterpreted. As coaches, we don't like what we are seeing with Caster now because she is a very talented athlete.”

Motlatsi Keikabile, who will manage the athletics team in Glasgow, said: “It is natural that eyebrows will be raised when Caster’s name is not mentioned in a team for a major competition. She just doesn’t pitch [perform] and injuries in the past year have aggravated her situation. But the problems could be much deeper.”

At the time that Mutola took Semenya under her wing in 2011, the Mozambican-born legend said: “Caster just needs to take the last steps to be a professional athlete. I want to use all my experience to help her to understand what it means to be on top.”

Semenya and Mutola could not be reached for comment as they were outside the country this week.

Finland-based agent Jukka Härkönen did not respond.

The waning star 

June 11 2014: On the same day Team SA for the Commonwealth Games was announced, without her making the squad, Semenya ran another disappointing race: she finished last (12th) in 2:03.68 at a Diamond League meeting in Oslo, Norway.

June 8 2014: She was placed a distant ninth – second from last – in a below-par time of 2:06.35 at an IAAF World Challenge meeting in Hengelo, Netherlands. The time was even slower than the 2:06.23 that won her the provincial championships in March.

April 2014: She retained her national title in 2:03.05 at the SA Senior Track and Field Championships in Pretoria.

July 2013: Semenya failed to qualify for the IAAF World Championships in Moscow, Russia, after competing in just two races. Despite wins in both races, her times of 2:04.48 and 2:06.58 were nowhere close to the 2:01.50 needed for an IAAF “B” qualification.

August 2012: She ran a season best of 1:57.23 to clinch a silver medal in her maiden Olympic Games in London. She ran 1:57.67 in the semis and 2:00.71 in the heats.

September 2011: She clinched a silver medal at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu, Korea, in an season best time of 1:56.35. Semenya had clocked 1:58.07 in the semifinals and 2:01.01 in the heats.

August 2009: Semenya won her first senior world championship in a fast time of 1:55.45, a national record that still stands.

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