Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the greatest female sprinter of all time?
Two consecutive Olympic titles in the 100m, four world titles in the same distance, six Olympic medals in total, eleven World Championship medals overall, nine of which are gold, including in the 200m and 4x100m relay: Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is one of, if not the, greatest female sprinters of all time. After taking a break from athletics to have a child, she proved her enduring quality at the Doha 2019 World Championships, winning two gold medals. Can she add to her medal haul at Tokyo 2020?
Carrying her two-year-old son, Zyon, in her arms and with her hair dyed in the colours of the rainbow, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce celebrated her fourth 100m world title on 29 September 2019, at the age of 32. At the Khalifa Stadium in Doha (Qatar), she won the final by some margin, breaking clear into an unassailable lead right from the start and crossing the finish line in 10.71 seconds. It was a season’s best and the same time she had clocked when winning the World Championships in Moscow six years earlier – just 0.01 seconds slower than her personal best. This took her 100m world title haul to four – more than any other athlete in history, male or female, even her illustrious compatriot Usain Bolt (who won three in this distance).
“I worked so hard to be back”
“Standing here having done it again at 32 and holding my baby is a dream come true,” said Fraser-Pryce after her victory. “I had no sleep last night. Last time I was at a major championship was 2016, and I just could not sleep with nerves. But with mental toughness you will get what you want.” She added: “I can’t believe it. I worked so hard to be back. The field was so strong; I had to come good here and I’m so excited to come out with victory. I just wanted to nail my start, which I did, and in the end I was just making sure to get to the line, and not leaving anything to chance.”
A week later, the Jamaican 4x100m relay team, made up of Nathalia Whyte, Fraser-Pryce, Jonielle Smith and 400m specialist Shericka Jackson, delivered a scintillating performance in the final and were far slicker than their rivals throughout. A supersonic Fraser-Pryce ran the second leg and put her team into the lead. “I’m really glad that, as a team, we came out here and were able to come away with the victory,” she said. “Nothing is perfect; I would definitely say it took a lot of hard work, a lot of sacrifice and commitment, to get to this point. The work continues [for] 2020. I’m not the mommy of the team; I’m a mom. It’s good to be able to be a part of the team, and just to give inspiration.”
Fraser-Pryce is back where she was between 2008 and 2015 – at the very top of women’s sprinting on the world stage. She became the first Jamaican woman to win Olympic 100m gold in 2008, before taking 100m and 4x100m gold at the World Championships in Berlin in 2009. She then claimed a second Olympic title, as well as 200m and 4x100m silver, at London 2012; achieved, like Bolt, a 100m-200m-4x100m triple at the Moscow 2013 World Championships; and claimed gold in the 100m and 4x100m at the Beijing 2015 World Championships.
Bronze statue in front of the National Stadium in Kingston
Standing at 1.52m and weighing 52kg, the woman nicknamed the “Pocket Rocket” experienced a difficult start to the 2016 season due to a toe injury, which put paid to her dream of an Olympic 100m triple in Rio. She had to settle for bronze, with her compatriot Elaine Thompson taking gold. Three years on, Fraser-Pryce referred to the Rio Games as “the only championship [at which] I’ve never ran 10.7”.
She spent the whole of the 2017 season away from the track after announcing she was pregnant in March. She gave birth to Zyon on 7 August 2017, while her team-mates were competing at the World Championships in London; she watched Thompson’s victory at home on TV.
Her return to top-level sport in May 2018 was followed by the unveiling of a bronze statue, built in her honour, in front of the National Stadium in Kingston in October. The statue depicts her crossing a finish line and triumphantly raising her fist in the air. Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who attended the unveiling ceremony, tweeted: “May this statue serve as an enduring inspiration for all Jamaicans and a reminder that with hard work and dedication you can conquer the world,” followed by the hashtag #Pocketrocket. Fraser-Pryce now refers to herself as “Mommy Rocket” on her Twitter bio.
Next stop Tokyo 2020
When she clocked 10.73 seconds in the 100m final at the Jamaican trials for the 2019 World Championships on 22 June (finishing level with Thompson), it was clear that Fraser-Pryce was going to be back in contention for major global titles, and that was exactly what she proved two months later in Doha. “Zyon and my husband have been my strength,” she said. “When everybody else doubted me, they never did. It’s down to them that I am here again.”
Fraser-Pryce will now hope to be at the very top of her game in the Japanese capital next year, where she will attempt to earn a third Olympic gold medal in the women’s blue ribband event – something that has never been done before. “For me, having this longevity in the sport is definitely a plus. It’s my hope that young athletes […] can understand that you have time, and it can happen, and you can continue to do well after [many] years,” she said. While she does not know how long she will continue competing at the highest level, she thinks that she still has two more years left in her. “I think I have a 10.60 in me. We have 10 months to go before Tokyo. My coach did say that he believes I’m not fully back, but we’re working on it!”