Stuart Weir wrote this piece on strong women. I really like it, and hope you will as well! In the 70s, women coming back from having children was uniquer (Fannie Blankers-Koen did it in the 1940s!). Stuart points out women of strength from many different cultures, challenges and events.
Strong women have been in the news in the sport this year and in Doha. I don’t just mean the throwers like Kelsey-Lee Barbour or DeAnna Price (2019 world champions in the javelin and hammer). This has been the year of the mom.
Hong Liu of China won the 20K walk, saying afterwards: “This is my comeback after I gave a birth to my child so it is a great achievement. It is like a new start for me”. Liu admitted she adjusted her training schedule since becoming a mother. After giving birth to her daughter Xixi in November 2017, she realised she’d have to change her routine to be able to tackle both motherhood and the world of elite sport. “I’m not only an athlete, but I became a mother,” said Liu. “So, I have to devote much time to balance family life and training. It was a bit difficult for me as I have to focus on the training and make my training more effective.”
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price celebrated winning the 100m by taking her son, Zyon, on a lap of honor. She described her emotions: “It was a long journey coming back physically and mentally because I was over 30 and everyone else was running fast. I was worried about whether I was going to come back OK. I just really worked hard. My son Zyon has been my source of strength and my inspiration and I continue to work hard for him. Together we have defied logic. I’m happy that I have had that experience and it certainly made me tougher and stronger. Having Zyon here being able to witness tonight is definitely a moment I’ll cherish. He reminded me of how much I had to work and fight as a woman. Tonight was one of those moments I am really proud of because for women in athletics it’s very hard to take a break and come back to sprinting. It took a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice. Standing here, having done it again at 32, and holding my baby, is a dream come true”.
Allyson Felix took gold in the 4 by 400 women’s and mixed relays, saying: “A lot of hard work went into this one, overcoming a lot of adversity and complications, in a year where my health – and my daughter’s health – was in jeopardy.” Felix also revealed that Fraser-Pryce became part of the support system that helped her continue with her sporting goals. “I had goose bumps watching Shelly-Ann,” said Felix. “We’ve talked a lot this year, encouraging each other. She’s been an amazing support.” Last year Felix drew attention to Nike’s arguably discriminatory policy, expecting her to take a pay-cut when on her maternity break. She told me: “The year has been very challenging, a lot of adversity” adding “I feel very good about being a role model for women. I feel proud that I made it through a lot this year and there have been a lot of other strong women – Shelly-Ann, Nia Ali and a lot of women who have endured a lot and are still going”.
The women’s Marathon was something of a mothers’ union with winner, Ruth Chepngetich, dedicating her victory to “my family, my daughter, my roommate and management”. In fourth place was Edna Kiplagat with Roberta Groner sixth, both mothers. Hellen Obiri, winner of the 5000m, has a 4 year old daughter Tania “Blessing” Mocheche.
Defending 1500m champion, Faith Kipyegon, had only raced once before the World Championships, after the birth of her daughter, Alyn, in June 2018. While she failed to defend her title, she took silver with a new Kenyan national record. She told me “it felt great watching Fraser-Pryce winning as a mother and Allyson Felix also coming back”.
Nia Ali, who had a son in 2015, returning to win the World Indoor title and to take silver in the Rio Olympics in the sprint hurdles. She then had a daughter in June 2018 but incredibly still ran a PR to win the 100m hurdles – with both children in the stadium and joining her for the lap of honor.
It doesn’t always have a happy ending. Barbora Å potÃ¡kovÃ¡, defending champion in the women’s javelin, could only finish ninth in 2019. Earlier in the year she told me: “I had a break – ‘a mother break’ – so it’s definitely a different season. For me it’s like a new start, to start after giving birth. So, it’s definitely a different season compared to the last world championship in 2017. This year every competition was like a personal best – if I improve a few centimeters”. 2012 Olympic triple jump Champion, Olga Rypakova, now has two children. The President of Kazakhstan described her as a “mother-heroine!” At this year’s world championship she failed to make the final.
Another remarkable woman is Qatar’s Mariam Farid who competed in the 400m hurdles in a black full-bodied leotard, covering herself from head to toe. Having taken up athletics as a 15 year old, she said: “I used to be the strong girl at school playing soccer with boys and beating them. My goal is inspiring the younger generation, breaking down barriers, changing people’s perception of how women are in the Middle East”. She ran a PR of 1:09.49.
Let’s give the last word to Fraser-Pryce: “The world believes you should wait until you’re finished to have a baby, but I had other plans.”