If the popular preconception of the sprinter is of an ego on legs, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is the perfect antidote. Modest, unfailingly courteous, she even gives the impression that a subtle mixture of coaching, her opponents and Providence have been responsible for the Jamaican 25 year old winning two successive Olympic 100m titles, rather than any input from herself.
Fraser-Pryce’s career took a dip after victory in Beijing, then winning the world title in Berlin 2009, so victory in London 2012 came as a relief as much as anything else. "The last two years have been hard for me," she said at the post-victory press conference. "It was hard to stay focused. But I’m here, I’m healthy, thank God. It wasn’t the perfectly executed race, but my coach says if you do your own thing, make sure you win. But you can’t do it alone, there were eight girls out there, so congrats to all of them, everyone deserves applause. But I want to thank my coach (Steven Francis), I think he believes in me more than I believe in myself."
Fraser-Pryce is one of a new generation of Jamaican sprinters, who have discovered that they don’t necessarily need to take up a scholarship in the USA to pursue success. It may be that they all know the story of SAFP’s famous predecessor as Jamaican record holder, Merlene Ottey, going to college in Nebraska, and having to endure freezing cold and snow for the first time. "Jamaica is important to me," says the two-time champ. "I was fortunate when I left school in 2006, Steven Francis offered to train me. Also, I’m close to my family; if anything happens, I can just take a bus, and go home. I love Jamaica, I love my family, I love my husband (Jason)."
One of only three women to win two successive Olympic sprint titles – Wyomia Tyus in 1964/68, and Gail Devers in 1992/96; both of the USA were the others – she was told by the press conference moderator that Devers had already sent a message via USATF, to welcome SAFP to the exclusive 'club’. The current sprint queen seemed impressed, though bemused. "I don’t know much about track history," she admitted, "but I’m honoured to be part of a club like that."
At one point she was asked how famous she was in Jamaica compared with Usain Bolt. "I’m not one of those people who want recognition," she said. "I go to the supermarket, and people recognise me, but they all ask me questions about Usain; 'where is he, what’s he doing, where’s he running next, do I train with him?’ And I have to explain, 'no, I don’t know, we’re in different training groups’. But I don’t mind, he’s done a lot, I’m fine with the limelight I get." And this is said with an endearing simplicity that even the hard-hearted hacks almost applaud.
It seems incredible now, after so many successes in the last four years that, until Beijing 2008, no Jamaican sprinter, man or woman, had won an Olympic title. But now, Fraser-Pryce concedes, the country almost expects success. "Jamaicans are greedy," she says without rancour, "we expect a lot. But I don’t think about what Jamaica wants; that’s too much pressure. I don’t think about it 'til I do it."
Well, she certainly did it again on Saturday evening. And with the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence on Monday, Fraser-Pryce feels she has made some contribution to the birthday celebrations. "In Beijing, it was the men’s final first (when Bolt won), but here, the women are first. It’s our 50th anniversary, and I’m already excited, to win Jamaica’s first gold medal. Also, we won our independence from England, so it’s great to win it here in England."
And all we can add after that is 'Happy Anniversary!’