The king is dead, long live the queen! Or rather the queens… The proverb takes on its full meaning in the world of world athletics: the women’s sprint has taken the ascendancy, both in sports and in the media, over the men’s sprint since the retirement of Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt five years ago. In Eugene (Oregon, United States), the most exciting race of the world championships will not be the 100m for these gentlemen – Saturday July 16 – but, the next day, the straight line disputed between the best sprinters of the moment .
“It was already the case in Tokyo. The women’s 100m is more anticipated than the men’s 100m, notes Pierre-Jean Vazel, ex-coach of Christine Arron, still European record holder for the distance. Among men, the hierarchy is a bit fuzzy. Marcell Jacobs [the Italian, surprise Olympic champion in 2021] is diminished by an injury. There is no extraordinary performance. Among the girls, it has already run very quickly. »
This year, twelve athletes ran under 10s 90. Three of them ran in less than 10s 80 and, among them – all Jamaicans -, the favorite Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce has already brought the stopwatch under 10 s 70 twice.
In 2021, for the first time, two sprinters from Jamaica had come very close to a record that we thought was unattainable, the one held since July 16, 1988, by the American Florence Griffith-Joyner (10 s 49): Elaine Thompson-Herah, three-time Olympic champion in Tokyo (in the 100, 200 and 4 × 100 m relay), ran in 10.54 seconds, the second performance in history; Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in 10s 60.
The impossible made possible
“Since Bolt, no one has taken up the mantle in men. The girls are setting the times and the women’s 100m makes you want to do it,” said Muriel Hurtis, gold medalist in the 4 × 100m relay at the 2003 Worlds. “All eyes will be on the sprinters this summer,” says Jamaican Juliet Cuthbert , double Olympic vice-champion in 1992 in the 100 and 200 m.
Met the day before the Paris meeting, June 18, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, 35, nine times world champion and eight times Olympic medalist, does not want to be satisfied with her immense list of achievements and the honorary place of third woman. the fastest of all time. “My goal is just to push past the things I’ve done so far to run faster. And I really believe that I can run faster. That’s what really motivates me,” she told Le Monde. And to insist: “I can’t wait to add another gold medal to my list. I had all these successes, but I still think I can run faster. »
The “rocket pocket” – it measures 1.52 meters – would be wrong to hide. She starts with a small margin over her main rival, Elaine Thompson-Herah, but also faces a third contender, Shericka Jackson, who proved herself at the Jamaican championships by winning the 100 and 200 m (Fraser-Pryce did not run in the final).
This is also the opinion of her compatriot Juliet Cuthbert. “Fraser-Pryce has been very consistent throughout the year. She is very strong mentally. For me, she is the best. It seems a little more powerful to me. She’s going to do great things, maybe she’ll break the world record this year,” she predicted.
And maybe as early as this month of July on the track at Hayward Field in Eugene, known to be fast: this is where Elaine Thompson-Herah (30), a little behind this year, got closer, the August 21, 2021, just five hundredths off the world record. This race was a trigger, the impossible became achievable.
Jamaican public favors
“Before, the sprinters said that the record was impregnable, recalls Pierre-Jean Vazel. Last year, the Olympic record was equaled. There, the world record is in their strings. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Elaine Thompson clearly show it. »
The competition promises to be spectacular between Elaine Thompson-Herah, renowned for her finish, and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who is, conversely, for her starts. But the main underdog, Shericka Jackson, should not be overlooked either: the former 400m runner ran in 10.76s in the 100m event and achieved a thundering 21.55s over 200m, the third best performance Of the history.
Juliet Cuthbert predicts a Jamaican hat-trick: “It would be great and a huge achievement if the Jamaicans could break the home record of their American rivals. “ More extroverted, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce gathers the favors of the Jamaican public. “She’s the most popular because of her personality,” confirms Juliet Cuthbert. She is jovial, smiles a lot and has this longevity at the highest level. »
Despite the quality of the show offered by these great ladies of the sprint, their level of recognition is not yet up to that of the great sprinters. “It’s a shame that the women’s sprint is only followed when there are outstanding performances,” laments Muriel Hurtis.
“There is still a disparity, regrets Juliet Cuthbert, now engaged in politics and current minister of health and well-being. Women don’t get the same level of sponsorship as Usain Bolt, for example, who still gets a lot, even retired. »
An almost 35-year-old world record erased in a world championship final would certainly be a magnificent advertisement for women’s sprinting. “If they break this record, I hope they get the recognition they deserve,” said the minister.