Updated 4 September 2022 with editor’s comments.
Deji Ogeyingbo wrote this feature on Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and how he believes that she will manage both her competition and her energy as she battles the best competitors in the world over the next couple of years.
This piece has stirred up some controversy. Controversy is good. One asked if we thought SAFP was going to retire. That is not what Deji has suggested. He did stir up a hornet’s nest, though. I enjoy that as well.
In 2011, I recall a Nike manager asking me if I would interview SAFP, who everyone thought was over her career! I enjoyed my visit with SAFP. Shelly-Ann was fun, and we spoke about how she was racing herself into shape, which did on the way to Daegu, Korea for the WC 2011.
The truth is, this 100 meter was one of the finest that this editor has seen in some time. Shericka Jackson just managed to nip SAFP at the finish, 10.73-10.74. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was compromised by a toe injury, which she had rested, but was she all of the way back? We will just have to see.
Deji Ogeyingbo offers some opinions and ideas on the five-time World Champion at 100 meters, who, this editor believes, is not going anywhere soon. Want to motivate SAFP? Just let her read Deji’s thoughts about her changes in Paris 2024!
Rare defeat allows Fraser-Pryce to focus on the new installment of her career.
Jamaica’s sprinting great Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce lost for the first time this season. At the Diamond League in Brussels, her winning streak that spanned over a year came to a halt. She was beaten by a woman that has been lurking at her crown over the 100m in the last year. Shericka Jackson was still in High school when Fraser Pryce won her first Olympic title in Beijing. Things can come full circle. But that’s what elite sports are all about.
It was the first time Jackson had beaten Fraser Pryce over the 100m in eight attempts. The first time they locked horns over the distance was in 2018. Jackson was still a fledgling running the distance. In fact, she was a predominantly 400m runner then. Four years down the line, the 28-year-old can now count her great countrywoman as part of her trophy collection. Jackson beat her by one-hundredth of a second as she clocked 10.73s.
First, let’s talk about the numbers. Fraser-Pryce has been sterling this season. The multiple world champion had won all of her races before the matchup with Jackson. All of them were run inside 10.70s. As a matter of fact, the diminutive sprinter had run more sub-10.7s this season alone than 90% of sprinters in history. Her season best was 10.62s from Monaco. She seemed untouchable.
But at 35, there are so many races and optimum performance she can churn out every single week. Eventually, the body burns out, and it’s susceptible to injuries. A week before the race in Belgium, Fraser-Pryce was in pristine condition. Another match-up against Elaine Thompson-Herah and Shericka Jackson beckoned. One hour before the race, there was news that she had a slight hamstring problem and opted to play it safe by not running.
It was the right decision then, but was it the right decision to lace her cleats in a matchup against the world’s best sprinters in Belgium? Second might seem a good place for the average sprinter to finish a race talk more of a 10.74s clocking. Not Fraser-Pryce. She has transcended the realm of sprinting, and performance lower than the standards she has set will be seen as an anomaly.
Professional athletics place the burden on the individual athlete to make crucial decisions, and it will only come with more choices, especially if you are multiple world champions and you are closer to your late 30s. Fraser-Pryce is in that spectrum and needs to delicately make her decisions with the world championships and Olympics coming up in 2023 and 2024.
In an age when women are still pressured to choose between career and motherhood, between strength and beauty, between sport or fashion, success or popularity, one box or another, Fraser-Pryce seems to tick all the boxes. But there comes a time when you have to manage your body. Unlike her younger counterparts, injuries will take time to heal, and she will have a slower recovery time for her body and, more importantly, a greater list of competitors coming for her crown.
Sprinting events entail lots more from the body, unlike distance running, where athletes retire from the track and transition into road racing to make more money. It’s like football. attackers rely so much on their running and rarely play into their forties, unlike goalkeepers who do less running. There is a greater chance of Eliud Kipchoge, who is two years younger than Fraser-Pryce, winning Gold in the marathon at the Paris Olympics in 2024 than the Jamaican.
Fraser Pryce would be approaching 38 by the time Paris ends. What legacy would she want to leave by then? For Sportswomen, knowing when to call it quits is a very dicey situation. Many global stars have come to learn that the hard way. Usain Bolt should have hung his spikes after he made history at the Rio Olympics. He wanted one last swansong in London. Well, it ended with him being wheeled away in front of a raucous crowd who had watched him entertain them for the best part of ten years.
Financial commitments, too, can cloud the decisions of the Fraser-Pryce. Very little money is to be made in athletics compared to other sports. The likes of Tennis stars Emma Raducanu and Naomi Osaka have lesser sporting achievements compared to the Jamaican, but their endorsements dwarf what the Jamaican earn. So, rationally, she is tempted to milk every bit of money that she can make off meets.
If there is anything that should be taken from Fraser-Pryce’s first loss this year, it is just how difficult this sport is. In so many ways, staying at the top makes life more challenging for athletes. It thrusts them into a completely unfamiliar situation, forcing them to adjust to and find a new way to perform in case of external circumstances like injuries set in.