2021 Women’s Athlete Of The Year — Elaine Thompson-Herah

To finish off her Tokyo triple, Elaine Thompson-Herah (with water bottle) joined with (l-r) Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Shericka Jackson & Briana Williams to win 4×1 gold. (JEFF COHEN)

HER QUEST TO AGAIN CONQUER the sprint world was anything but a sure thing for Elaine Thompson-Herah. Still troubled by the Achilles injury that had dogged her since her double golds in Rio, she battled pain and doubt along the way to becoming our ’21 Women’s AOY.

That the campaign wouldn’t be a walk in the park was clear in her first outdoor 200, April 10 in Florida, where she managed only a windy 22.44 for 4th. But within a month, she showed the wheels were still there, hitting 10.78 after a 10.76w in another Sunshine State meet.

In early June, she prepped for the Jamaican Trials with a decent 10.87/22.54 double. But when she got to the big meet in Kingston, she still looked nothing like a repeat gold medalist. In the 100, she ran 10.84 but finished behind arch-rival Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (10.71) and Shericka Jackson (10.82).

Two days later, the 200 final played out in the same order: Fraser-Pryce (21.79), Jackson (21.82), and Thompson-Herah (22.02).

The reigning Olympic champ admitted that she was besieged with doubts. She told the BBC that she had been writing down a series of affirmations every day: “I will run 10.5. I will run 21.5. I can do it. I am a winner. I am a champion. I will be the fastest woman alive. Say it, believe it, work for it and pray for it. I will be the double Olympic champion. Today is my day. I am the greatest.”

The first fruits came on July 06 at Hungary’s Gyulai Memorial, where she blasted the straightaway in 10.71, the No. 11 performance ever, leaving SAFP 0.11 behind. She followed that with a 200 win in Gateshead in 22.43.

Then came Tokyo, and ETH streaked through the first two rounds of the 100 in 10.82 and 10.76. In the final, she romped to a 10.61 to crush her rivals, tying the non-Flojo World Record in the process. She said it could have been faster, but before the finish line she gestured at the clock.

“I could have run 10.5, if I was not celebrating. I didn’t realize I’d done the pointing. I think my body knew I wanted to win so badly.

“If I could run it back over, I would run straight to the line. That is the thing I could fix — the start was great, the transition was great, just that last 10m.”

She performed just as brilliantly in the 200, matching her lifetime best of 21.66 in her semi before crushing the next day’s final in 21.53, the No. 2 time in history and the fastest in 33 years.

She told reporters, “I am so, so happy. Omigod, it’s amazing that I have ever seen this day. That I could complete another double, I can’t believe it.”

In successfully defending both her titles from Rio, Thompson-Herah became the first woman in history to win an Olympic sprint “double-double.”

“For the last 5 years I’ve been up and down with this injury but I still have my composure [and] put in the work to come out here and claim my title,” she said. “I’m happy for that.”

Although it had no bearing on her selection as AOY (which is purely an individual honor), she clinched her third gold of the week with a strong second leg on the fastest Jamaican 4×1 ever, helping her teammates to a 41.02.

The fireworks didn’t end in Tokyo. At the Pre Classic, she moved even faster, a 10.54 that we regard as the fastest in history, second only to Flojo’s infamous 10.49 with a dubious wind reading.

In Lausanne she got beaten by Fraser-Pryce, 10.60–10.64, recording the fastest runner-up time in history. She concluded her season with blazing wins in Paris (10.72) and at the Diamond League Final in Zürich (10.65).

As she moved into her next training cycle, she split from longtime coach Stephen Francis and is guided for the time being by her husband, former 400 hurdler Derron Herah. She says she has every intention of being a factor in at least the next two outdoor Worlds.

What motivates her? “I’m a fighter, and I keep fighting through all those obstacles and those hurdles that I’ve been hurdling. For me to come back and dominate, I still came to work, I still put up the fight… I keep dreaming, keep doing what I do to inspire younger generations.”

The all-time list of women’s AOYs can be found here

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