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Elaine Thompson made quite a breakthrough at Rio 2016. After ensuring that the Olympic women’s 100m title remained in Jamaican hands by succeeding compatriot Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce as sprint queen, the 24-year-old then won the 200m. In the process, she became the first woman to complete the Olympic sprint double since the late Florence Griffith-Joyner at Seoul 1988. Remarkably, those two stellar wins were the new Jamaican star’s first in a major international competition.
Hailing from Banana Ground in Manchester Parish, one of the more deprived parts of Jamaica, Elaine Thompson came under the care of her grandmother Gloria when she was only seven months old. Though her family have always said that she was “born to run”, Thompson was far from being the most outstanding sprinter at her school and only placed fourth in the 100m at the Jamaican Boys and Girls Championships in 2009. Two years later she was dropped from her school’s track and field team altogether. She was then spotted by athletics coach Stephen Francis, the founder of the MVP Track Club and the man behind Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce’s successful career. Obtaining a scholarship to the University of Technology in Kingston, Thompson started to become the sprinter her family always believed she could be.
In crediting Francis with putting her on the right course, Thompson said: “I went to a track meet and didn’t do too well, and he basically took me to the side and gave me a speech that really motivated me and changed my life. I can’t say (exactly what he said), but he basically said that I was not in high school anymore and I needed to take things more seriously; that I needed to realize that I am running with the big girls now. So it pushed me to take it seriously.” Thompson, who stands 1.67m tall and weighs 57kg, began her steady rise to the top in 2013, gradually bringing her times down before dipping under 11 seconds for 100m and 22 for the 200m two years later.
A member of the Jamaican 4x100m relay squad that won gold at the 2013 Central American and Caribbean Championships in Morelia (MEX) and the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow (GBR), Thompson scored a stunning win the 200m at the Jamaican trials for the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing. She backed up that performance by running 21.66, the fifth-fastest time in history, in the Bird’s Nest. Sadly for her, Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands ran the fourth-fastest, 21.63, to snatch the gold. A maiden world title did come her way in Beijing, however, in the 4x100m relay. Then, in March 2016, Thompson ran 7.06 to take the 60m bronze at the World Indoor Championships in Portland (USA).
The rising star of Jamaican sprinting maintained her momentum at the national trials for Rio 2016 in Kingston that July, running the 100m in 10.70, the fastest time of the year and the fourth-quickest of all time. Though Thompson was forced to pull out of the 200m final with a thigh injury, she had already achieved the Olympic qualifying time and was selected for the event in Rio.
After cruising through the 100m heats and semi-finals at the Olympic Stadium in Rio, Thompson lined up for the final in Lane 4. Though the USA’s Tori Bowie made a blistering start, with a reaction time of 0.112 seconds, the young Jamaican took to the front after 60m and pulled away from the rest of the field to win gold in a time of 10.71, ahead of Bowie and defending two-time champion Fraser-Pryce. After soaking up the adulation of the Rio crowd, the richly talented Thompson said: “When I crossed the line and glanced across to see I was clear, I didn’t quite know how to celebrate. Of course, I used to watch Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce when I was younger and I remember seeing her at London 2012. I’m from a place that isn’t particularly well-known in Jamaica, but I’m proud of that.” That gold was only the start for Thompson.
Thompson renewed her rivalry with Schippers in the first 200m semi-final a few days later, with the Dutch sprinter coming home first in a time of 21.96, 0.17 seconds faster than the Jamaican. Drawn into Lane 6 for the final, Thompson made a superb start and came out of the bend in the lead. Though her Dutch rival fought hard to close the gap, the newly crowned 100m champion held her off to win by a tenth of a second in a time of 21.78. Scarcely able to believe what she had done, the Jamaican lay on her back on the track and waited for the result to flash up on the big screen. When it eventually did, she leapt up and gave a cry of joy.