Women’s 60 meters and Ivorian triumph
The world of women’s sprinting has been turned on its head! In Birmingham we witnessed a 1-2 in the women’s 60m. Was it two Jamaicans? No. Was it then two Americans? Wrong again. It was two Ivorians! There was no American in the final. The only Jamaican, Elaine Thompson (100m and 200m gold medallist in Rio 2016), was fourth.
Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) is in West Africa. Its main sporting claim to fame is its soccer team which has been champions of Africa twice and played in the 2006, 2010 and 2014 World Cups. Didier Drogba is their most famous player. Now Murielle AhourÃ© (gold) and Marie JosÃ©e Ta Lou (silver) have put Ivorian sprinting firmly on the map.
AhourÃ© said afterwards: “I’m so happy, I’ve trained so hard for this and that medal is for my coach and my team that have trained me so hard. The most important thing I knew would be getting out of the blocks and executing my race, focusing on my lane. It’s huge to get gold and silver. The Ivory Coast is on top, we’re so happy and hopefully soon we’ll be able to take over the whole podium”.
Ta Lou added: “I’m just happy because when I came here I just wanted a medal. The indoor season is not my best, I hit that when the summer comes around. For me I have a big finish I just did what I needed to do and when I finished it was a wonderful feeling, but my best is the outdoor season. Every day I say that the Ivory Coast is good and I really believe that. I was happy to see Murielle win gold and I’m happy to see two girls representing our country on the podium.”
Their success was no fluke with AhourÃ© winning the first semi in a then world-leading 7.01, clearly ahead of Thompson’s 7.07 with Schippers’ 7.09 only good enough for a fastest loser spot. WhenTa Lou won the second semi in 7.08, the writing was already on the wall for the favorites.
Moreover both girls have been impressive in recent years. AhourÃ©, who has lived in USA since she was 14, won two silvers (100 and 200) in the 2013 World Championships as well as silvers at the 2012 and 2014 World. Ta Lou was second in both the 100m and 200m in the London 2017 World Championships after coming fourth in the 2016 Olympics in both the 100m and the 200m. In the Rio 100m she missed out on the bronze medal by coming seven thousandths of a second behind Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. In the 100m in London she was beaten by a hundredth of a second, only by the American, Tori Bowie’s dive for the finish line.
Growing up in the capital, Abidjan, Ta Lou played soccer until her older brother, a sports teacher, made her stop because she was “becoming too much like a boy”. Recognising her natural speed she was encouraged to go to the local track where the athletics club was holding trials to identify new athletes.
Without spikes – in fact without shoes of any kind – she ran barefoot against girls who had been training for months and beat them all in a 200m race. While her brother was pleased she was doing athletics, her mother saw it as a distraction from school, wanting her daughter to study medicine at university. She told me recently, that her mother is now happy with the career choice she made!
Reflecting on her progress in 2017, Ta Lou said: “I didn’t expect to be in the top three in London because all the girls have the power and talent to make the podium. After every competition I get stronger, I thank God for the power he gives me. To get two silver medals is more than I could have asked for. I hope I have inspired a lot of girls back in the Ivory Coast”.