Elaine Thompson-Heron is one of the most spectacular athletes of this generation. She may be as Deji Ogeyinbgo notes in his second column for RunBlogRun, the greatest runner of all time in the women’s 100m. Her consistency in 2021 was mind boggling.
In her races, this observer notes that her last 40 meters are her strength, she does not shut down like most other sprinters do, and she (and Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce) push to the bitter end of the race.
Thanks Deji! Love your style of writing and glad that you are on board! You can follow Deji Ogayingbo on twitter at @deji_oges
Is Elaine Thompson-Herah the greatest 100m runner of all time?
The word Greatest of all time (GOAT) is a lexicon that is usually branded in the sporting world to refer to an athlete who has most times reached the pinnacle of their sport over a period of time. It comes with its own wrangling, especially since we are humans, there is usually a tendency to be subjective with conversations regarding greatness.
Athletics is certainly not immune to such subjectiveness. The sport is one that is based on individual performances, and with the nuances of the sports boiling down, for the most part, to numbers on the track or field, there is usually a small range of athletes that come into the fray when having such discussions.
For example, Cuban High Jumper, Javier Sotomayor is unanimously considered to be the greatest athlete over the vertical jumps because of his unmatchable records. Usain Bolt undoubtedly remains untouchable when it comes to sprinting at the highest level, having broken records for the most part of his career, flawlessly defeating opponents, and winning major championships with relative ease.
The women’s 100m has been one event in athletics that few athletes have rarely dominated the scenery with their laurels and times for a sustained period of time. The World Record holder over the distance, Florence Griffith-Joyner, had set the record of 10.49 over three decades ago, a time most followers of the sports believed was unmatchable until this year.
Cue in Elaine Thompson-Herah. The 2021 year has proven to be the most interesting in women’s 100m in track and field, and this Jamaican did not only obliterate her competitors at major events, she also did the unthinkable by recording times consistently that defied the odds in women’s sprinting.
Her journey to get to this impeccable height has been fraught with ups and downs, and like every story of greatness, surmounting the hurdles to get to stardom is just as important.
Interestingly, Thompson-Herah wasn’t a sprinting prodigy in her early years unlike most of her Jamaican teammates who went on to do great exploits. In fact, her best performance at the iconic Jamaican High School Championships – the breeding ground of fellow Olympic champions Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and Yohan Blake – was fourth place in class two of the 100m in 2009.
After having her breakthrough season as a 23-year-old at the World Championships in Beijing in 2015, where she won Silver in the women’s 200m in a then Personal Best of 21.66s, it was a general consensus amongst Track and field faithful that she had something in store going into the Olympic Games in Rio the following year.
At the Games, she duly delivered a gutsy performance as he claimed a double over the 100m (10.71) and 200m (21.78). More good times followed after the Olympics as he went on to produce times around the 10.7s and 10.8s zones. Now, on a surface level, that time looks decent enough for wining Diamond league trophies and major championships, but it didn’t threaten Griffith-Joyner’s World Record and Olympic times of 10.49s and 10.62s. In short, it was well out of the world record pace.
Something needed to change. She not only needed to surpass the feat of her compatriot, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, she also had to produce remarkable times that would put her in the same conversation as Griffith-Joyner as one of the greatest of all time.
Training with her coach, Stephen Francis, who guides the MVP track club in Jamaica, he took a special interest in her progress and knew she could get into the 10.5 and 10.6 time zones in the 100m and the 21.4s and 21.5s in the 200m. Little did she know that it will take another four years to come close to such times as he began to struggle with injuries that affected her performances at the top level.
Elaine Thompson-Herah, defended her titles from Rio 2016 in Tokyo 2021, photo (London 2017), by Mike Deering / The Shoe Addicts for RunBlogRun
She could only manage a fifth place in the 100m at the 2017 World Championships in London. Her 2018 was also a disappointment, and she finished fourth in the 100m at the 2019 Worlds in Doha – where Fraser-Pryce took gold – before opting not to run the 200m.
“Honestly, Achilles injury is a hard one to deal with, and I have dealt with it for a long time. It is like three years I have been dealing with it… it is hard to deal with medical-wise,” she said speaking to Jamaica’s Loop News at the start of 2019.
How was she going to defend her Olympic title in 2020, when she could not even get a medal at the world championships? Luckily for Thompson-Herah, the Covid-19 pandemic struck and the games were postponed.
“I am a top athlete and I just have to work my way back to the top. And I know one day, this Achilles pain, it all goes away. Disappointment makes you better and stronger because I know what I’m facing is this one lingering injury. The main thing is putting in the work and you will get the result that you want one day.” She told Olympics.com
Her 2021 season, however, could be one that will send shivers down the spine of not only her competitors but to historians who felt no woman in modern-day sprinting can produce or surpass the achievements of Griffith-Joyner. Thompson-Herah churned out times consistently that were verifiable.
10.54 (+0.9), 10.61 (-0.6), 10.64 (+1.7), 10.65 (+0.6), are some of the times that the two-time double Olympic Champion consistently delivered this season. Of the lot, the 10.61 catches the eye, as on the biggest stage of them all, at the Olympics in Tokyo, she broke Griffith-Joyner’s Olympic record by 0.01s to claim the title. She also went on to win the women’s 200m in a new Personal Best time of 21.53s.
Her races in Tokyo showed fluidity in her stride pattern, similar to that of Flo-Jo’s. She claims that her improvement was down to altered technique, improved diet, and total dedication to training, particularly in the gym. After the games, she blasted to a 10.54s in Eugene, covering the first 60m in an incredibly quick 6.87 seconds, equaling Flo-Jo’s 60m time when she sped to the world record at U.S. Olympic Trials in 1988.
“A few years ago I was asked whether I could break that record and I said it was not possible, but for me to run a 10.54 means it is definitely within reach,” she said ahead of her race in Lausanne.
What she has done is unprecedented. She is the first woman to win the double in back-to-back Olympics, she’s the first woman to run four legal sub-10.7s ever in history in a season, and she did it in style. Consistency is key in a sport like athletics and Thompson-Herah has proven that she can not only ruffle feathers with the big girls, she is in a class of her own and the gold standard for women’s sprinting at the moment.