When Caster Semenya won the world 800m title in 2009, the 18-year-old prodigy coasted to victory with such ease she seemed invincible.
Five years on, Semenya has become the most inconsistent enigma in South African athletics.
Though she does shine at major championships, she has a tendency to make bizarre tactical decisions and on occasion lines up against world-class fields in atrocious form – her performance at the Diamond League meeting in Rome this week being a case in point.
Semenya will compete at the World Challenge meeting in Hengelo today in a last-ditch attempt to sneak into the Commonwealth Games team five days before the entry deadline.
If she is able to climb into the top five in the Commonwealth rankings with a solid run, Athletics South Africa will probably argue for her inclusion as a potential medallist, relying on a loophole or possible medical reasons due to injuries.
But Sascoc’s qualifying window closed a week ago and the Olympic body doesn’t like diverting from its selection policy, so it’s highly unlikely she will be included.
Johan Cronje has been in stellar form over the last two seasons, while Andre Olivier is one race away from a breakthrough international performance and Elroy Gelant is on the verge of smashing the 19-year-old SA 5 000m record as the country’s middle-distance runners continue their long-waited resurgence.
While they’re all moving forward, however, Semenya is going backwards, and her best performance each year has been slower since the 2011 season.
Aside from injuries – she had a knee operation early last year – there are unconfirmed reports that Semenya is planning to wed long-time partner Violet Raseboya, and her personal life may be taking up much of her focus.
Cronje, however, has a wife and young child, a full-time job as an investment analyst and his own share of injury concerns, yet he performs consistently well at the highest level.
Semenya may have a bag full of excuses but more than anything it seems she simply doesn’t care.
It’s become the norm for her to produce such inconsistent performances from one day to the next that she seems like a different athlete every time she steps on the track.
And though she looked hopelessly unfit in Rome, it would not be surprising if she stormed through for victory in Hengelo today, with a sudden spring in her step that was nowhere in sight in the Italian capital.
Whatever reason Semenya may have for her lackadaisical approach, it’s ridiculous that the continent’s most talented 800m runner is likely to miss a second-tier championship like the Commonwealth Games.
If she wants to get back to her best, Semenya is going to have stop playing tactical games, turning out in major races in poor shape and making a mockery of a sport in which athletes like Cronje have worked their entire lives to excel.
The sport of track and field has no favourites and if she does not pull up her socks, the prodigious talent from Limpopo faces the danger of drifting into obscurity.
Semenya has said before she does not like running and would rather play football, but when the gun is fired for the start of the women’s 800m final at the Rio Olympics, it will be a damn shame if Semenya is kicking a soccer ball in Pretoria.
If that happens, the only person she can blame is herself.