Shericka Jackson at the Tokyo Olympic Games (© AFP / Getty Images)
Beyond the headline-grabbing rivalry of Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah and world champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, there has been another remarkable Jamaican sprinting success story from 2021.
Shericka Jackson completed the Caribbean nation’s Olympic medal sweep by taking bronze in the women’s 100m behind the illustrious duo. But she can justifiably stake a claim to being the most talented all-round sprinter of them all, having become the first Jamaican woman to run under 11 seconds for 100m, under 22 seconds for 200m and under 50 seconds for 400m.
She is only the 10th athlete ever to achieve all three landmark times in the women’s sprints, and only the third since 2000, following in the hallowed spike marks of Olympic gold medallists Allyson Felix and Shaunae Miller-Uibo.
Jackson’s best over 400m came at the 2019 World Championships in Doha where 49.47 earned her bronze, and this year she slashed her 100m best to 10.76 in Tokyo and her 200m best to 21.81 at the Wanda Diamond League final in Zurich.
As a double world bronze medallist and 2016 Olympic bronze medallist over one lap, Jackson is no stranger to speed. But few recognised her potential at the short sprints. “Because I have always run 400m, a lot of people don’t actually know how good a talent I am,” she says. “I am so grateful for this year. This year has led to so many people who never knew, to see I had that talent.”
What a year it was. As well as earning 100m bronze in Tokyo, she added 4x100m gold and 4x400m bronze for a unique hat-trick. The only real blot on an amazing year came in the Olympic 200m, when she misjudged her finish, eased up too much and was eliminated in the heats.
“It was a fantastic season. I can’t complain,” she says. “There were ups and downs. There were some lessons that I had to learn. I have learned so much from this year just sprinting. I have run personal bests, won medals, it was a wonderful season for me.”
She is also philosophical over her error in the 200m.
“I never lost focus and I said, ‘everything happens for a reason’. I may not know the reason. I may have a goal that I go into a championship with and the goals that I have set myself, but God may not have planned the same for me.
“But for people to see how great an athlete I can be, to run great for 100m to 400m, it’s a good feeling,” she adds. “A lot of people never knew I was that good. In 2019, I ran the 400m and got a medal, then I came back and ran the 4x400m relay and I ran 4x100m. Basically, it went unnoticed because most people watch the (short individual) sprints.
“So, this year I was able to sprint and run a leg of the 4x400m. That was a great moment for me after the disappointment of the 200m. Well, I wouldn’t call it a disappointment – it was a lesson I have to learn.”
The postponement of the Olympics to 2021 was also a blessing for Jackson. “After the 2019 season, in the November, I did an X-ray and found I was running on two stress fractures. For me to be here in 2021 is such a good feeling.
“In 2020, I struggled so much,” added Jackson, who recorded season’s bests of 22.70 for 200m and 51.76 for 400m during her brief 2020 campaign. “I kept going because I never wanted to take one full year off and not do any activity. It was mentioned about doing surgery, but I never wanted to do that. I had a teammate who did that, and it was good for him, but by observing and listening to him, I just never wanted to be in that position.
“I stopped competing in August of last year and took some time off. I spent most of the time in the pool. When I found out in November (2019), I never started training back again until March which was a struggle, because at that time they hadn’t yet put off the Olympics.
“I was really worried, I wanted to get back. But when I found out they had postponed the Olympics, it was a really, really good thing for me. I just continued to work on where I was, working with the physio. We did a lot of pool stuff and she helped me so much with the healing. I’ve been to so many physios where it wasn’t working, so for her to work with me it was such a good feeling. I am so grateful.”
Even more remarkably, Jackson spent a chunk of her season still training for 400m before turning her attentions to the 100m and 200m.
“A lot of people don’t know, half of this season I was training for the quarter mile,” she admits “It was only once the season got underway that I realised I was going to sprint (shorter events). I had a strain, but I was speedy, so it was a good switch for me.”
She opened her European season at the Diamond League meeting in Gateshead on 23 May with a 400m of 53.40, below her typical form. But six days later, she turned her season round with a swift 11.02 over 100m back in Jamaica, her previous best being 11.13 from 2018. In discussions with her coach Paul Francis, they decided to change tack and instead focus on the 200m, also tackling the 100m in a bid to earn a relay spot.
The results went way beyond expectations. At the Jamaican Championships and Olympic Trials, Jackson finished second in the 100m in 10.82, having clocked a PB of 10.77 in the semifinals, and then followed it with a 21.82 run over 200m, both times behind Fraser-Pryce and just ahead of Thompson-Herah, which earned her individual selection in the short sprints and two relay spots at the Tokyo Olympics.
Beyond her success in Japan, Jackson also enjoyed success on the Wanda Diamond League circuit, including victory over 200m in Stockholm (22.10) and second place in the Final at Zurich in 21.81.
After finishing her season at the World Athletics Continental Tour Gold Meeting in Zagreb with another second-place finish, Jackson was looking forward to some well-earned down time after her whirlwind season.
“For me, I am just going to have some junk food for one week. I don’t want to have too much weight to lose,” she smiles. “I’ll have a nice bit of relaxation, eat some nice food and probably go to the hotel. I’m not too much of a fussy person, I like to relax, I like to read, listen to music. They are things I will do in my off season.”
But the fires are already burning inside for the possibilities that lie ahead.
“I am willing to run all events,” says Jackson, not ruling out a return to the one-lap sprint. “If my coach says we will run the 400m, I am always up for it. I like to challenge myself. I don’t limit myself to what I can do. I go after what I want, I work really hard. If it means going back to the 400m next year, I am definitely up for that task.
“But for me, I love challenges and this year was one of them. The sprinting challenges me a lot. If my coach and I discuss that and I go back to the 400m, I have no problem. It is not a problem to run all events.”
Chris Broadbent for World Athletics