Elaine Thompson-Herah after winning the 100m at the Gyulai István Memorial Szekesfehervar 2021 (© Balogh Dániel)
The golden generation of Jamaican women sprinters has been making history in front of our eyes for the past few years. Among them, five-time Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah has won everything there is to win except one thing: the individual world title. She can make up for that in Budapest next summer.
Indianapolis, July 16, 1988 Florence Griffith Joyner, one of the greatest athletes of all time did something that would set the goals for the next generation of sprinters for decades to come. No matter how great the personalities, from Marion Jones or Merlene Ottey to Carmelita Jeter, for two decades no one could come closer than a tenth and a half to her in the 100 metres.
Then something started to happen in Jamaica: first the men built up a dominance led by Usain Bolt, and then in the last couple of years the women have started to run huge times. As disappointing as the Tokyo Olympics were in terms of the fact that no Jamaican sprinter made it to the men's 100m final, they were just as delighted with what happened in the women's competition.
The women's 100m podium in Tokyo was claimed by three Jamaican sprinters, Elaine Thompson-Herah, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Shericka Jackson, representing three different age groups. In fact, it could well be that if the number of athletes from the same nation competing in the same event had not been limited at three at the Olympics, 19-year-old Briana Williams could have made at least a final.
There was no question that they would win the 4x100m relay easily in front of the world. If they had been more focused on their handoffs and had not passed the baton to the other in the last few centimetres, thereby losing speed, they could have even broken the world record of 40.82 set by the American quartet in 2012, and had to settle for a time of 41.02.
Thompson-Herah, who won both the 100m and 200m in Rio six years ago, went from "mere" star to legend in a week in Tokyo last year. No one in the women's field had ever done a double-double before, and Thompson won the 100m and 200m relay with her Jamaican teammates as a bonus.
Only Florence Griffith Joyner has run faster than Thompson-Herah's 10.61 in Tokyo and her form hasn't faded after the Olympics. She ran 10.54 at the end of August 2021 at the 2022 World Championships venue, the renovated Hayward Field - Nike's own track. She was five hundredths of a second off the world record, which has stood for 34 years.
Thompson-Herah said after her 2021 run in Oregon that she had plenty of energy left in her legs to make history. It was with this positive feeling that she flew overseas to Europe to fulfil her destiny in the final Diamond League races, but she didn't succeed last year or this year.
In fact, 2022 can be considered a disappointing year at his level: she lost out to Fraser-Pryce in the 100m at the World Championships and was overtaken by Shericka Jackson, who won the 200, before finishing 'only' silver with the Jamaican relay team. She can take little consolation from the fact that she managed a double at the Commonwealth Games.
Elaine Thompson-Herah can be considered a late maturing athlete.
She first broke the personal best of under 12 seconds at the age of 18. Before her 100-200 m double in Rio 2016 at the age of 24, she had few similar results. In fact, as a rebellious teenager, she was once even dropped from her school team. It was her grandmother who set her on the road to Olympic gold. More specifically, to the shop, where she encouraged her to sprint to.
"I don't know what Stephen saw in me that I didn't see in myself," she said of her coach Stephen Francis, who must have sensed something in the young athlete.
"He was the first person to tell me that if I spent more time on the track, I could be so much better. He advised me not to be afraid of other people, to be less serious, to smile more and to shake myself up" - a decade on, we can conclude that she took his advice to heart.
The World Championships Beijing 2015 was the first major event she had ever competed in, and she had already celebrated a world champion title as member of the 4x100m relay team, but in individual events she had "only" won a silver medal in the 200m because her coach had not allowed her to compete in the 100m at the Jamaican qualification, saying she should concentrate on the half-lap.
Also in 2015, he ran his first 100m in under 11 seconds, which would normally be the threshold for a final at a world event. The same "magic number" was true for the 2016 Rio Olympics, and in Tokyo they needed 11.01 to make the best of eight.
Six years ago, Thompson-Herah did the double and won a silver medal in the relay but she was injured after the Olympic Games.
The injury had a major impact on her performance at both the 2017 and 2019 World Athletics Championships. Due to an unhealthy Achilles tendon, she finished fifth in the 100m in 2017 and fourth in 2019. "Honestly, Achilles injury is a hard one to deal with, and I have dealt with it for a long time. It is like three years I have been dealing with it, but it is not like a muscle or a tendon, so it is hard to deal with medical-wise”* she said back in early 2019. After finishing fourth in the 100m at the World Athletics Championships in Doha, she made it through the 200m heats but did not compete in the semi-finals.
For Thompson-Herah, the postponement of the Olympics due to the coronavirus pandemic was a blessing.
"I have to continue working hard and move on, because I am a top athlete and I just have to work my way back on to the top. And I know one day this Achilles pain, and all goes away... My dream is to get there and recapture my titles and probably get three gold medals,”** she said in September 2020. “The key is to put in the work and fight for your goals and then the success will come. I want to defend my Olympic titles. My dream is to win three gold medals in Tokyo" she said in September 2020, and all her dreams came true!
In the 100m final, she started even better than Fraser-Pryce, who kept up with her until 70m. But Thompson-Herah then increased her speed and crossed the finish line with a 10.61 Olympic record, ahead of her rival who ran 10.74 and Jackson who finished in 10.76. She entered the 200m having never run under 22 seconds once before in 2021. In fact, she ran just 22.86 in the prelims, which qualified her in third place. In the semi-finals, she finally broke the 22 sec’ barrier, setting a personal best of 21.66.
Thompson-Herah's success in the relay meant she joined Florence Griffith Joyner and Usain Bolt as sprinters capable of a triple at the Olympics.
Allyson Félix's victory in the 4x400 relay gives her seven Olympic titles, making her the most successful female athlete of all time. If Thompson-Herah can do another triple at the Olympic Games in Paris, she will be the new record holder with eight golds.
But before that, she wants to make something special in Budapest, at the National Athletics Centre next summer! The 30-year-old world star has already been to Hungary last year, after which she will return to Hungary next year with nice memories! She fought a great battle with her compatriot Fraser-Pryce at the 2021 Gyulai István Memorial and came out victorious in Székesfehérvár with an extraordinary 10.71.
Will she succeed in August 2023 as well and complete her gold collection with the missing individual World Championship title? It will be one of the biggest stories of the next World Athletics Championships which you shouldn't want to miss!