An Encore For Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce

She may be 32, but all-time sprint great Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is back running at close to PR levels. (GLADYS CHAI/ASVOM AGENCY)

SHELLY-ANN FRASER-PRYCE has nothing to prove. The Jamaican sprint legend’s illustrious record speaks for itself: the first woman ever to capture 3 Olympic medals at 100m, 2 of them gold; 7-time World Championships gold medalist, 3 in the 100; 5-time Jamaican champion; 5-time Diamond League champion with 15 separate DL victories along the way. In ’13 she became the first woman to win golds in the 100, 200 and 4×1 in a single WC. And she was also the first woman to own world titles in the 60, 100, 200 and 4×1. Her PR 10.70 makes her No. 4 on the all-time list. Some think of her as the greatest female sprinter in history.

Yet SAFP remains inspired by challenges. In August ’17 she gave birth to a son. Shortly after her Facebook announcement of Zyon’s arrival, it was reported that Fraser-Pryce intended to continue her career. Some smirked at that announcement. The next summer, the multiple-time global medalist captured her 15th DL victory, a 100 win in London. Now less than 2 years after giving birth, the 32-year-old veteran is once again exhibiting sprint performances reminiscent of her glory days of the last decade. At the Jamaican Championships the “Pocket Rocket” flirted with her PRs in putting together a terrific dash double of 10.73 (equaling the yearly world lead and missing her PR by just 0.03) and 22.22 to finish 2nd in both events to Elaine Thompson, the reigning Olympic champ in both events.

With Zyon still shy of his second birthday, many observers were astounded by the pace of Fraser-Pryce’s return: her strength; her fitness; the recapture of her cat-like quickness out of the blocks, her smooth and speedy transition into her drive phase, all of which have contributed to the world-class clockings she has put on the board during this championship season. And the fast-paced progression has surprised SAFP as well. “I wouldn’t have thought that it would happen so quickly,” she says. “I was thinking that it would take some time to get back there, that it would take a lot of work. But one thing I have always been very faithful about is hard work. I am still very passionate about what it is I want to achieve. But for me, I realize everything takes time and once you are consistent in your routine I think eventually it will pay off. And I’m feeling that goal. I’m just focused on trying to be the best I can be. And for me, I believe my potential is still undiscovered.”

But can she remain inspired? With her myriad achievements, many wonder how the Jamaican speedster can find the motivation to come all the way back. “Of all of the accomplishments that I’ve had, I have never done them as a mum,” she says. “So that’s the purpose and the motivation. Right now it’s trying to do it as a mother,” she explains. “You have many people who have their opinions about what we can achieve and what’s impossible. For me, I’m just eager to go out and to compete and to just show that there is no limitation in trying to achieve greatness. And for me, I’m working on the impossible and just trying to take it one day at a time.”

On the heels of her impressive Kingston double, Fraser-Pryce made the pilgrimage to Palo Alto for the Prefontaine Classic, hopefully another stepping stone on her return to podium-worthy sprinting. “I’m looking forward to trying to get the pacing of the 100 correct—I’ve been away so long—regaining back that power and trying to go back to my competitive side. I’m coming off a national championship where I had to run 4 straight days. I haven’t run 4 straight days in a long time. It definitely was tiring. But for me, it is just trying to execute and to get back to my old style,” she explains earnestly. “For me, each race is trying to put the pieces of the 100 together. I am hopeful I can connect that tomorrow. So my goal is to get out in the first 30 and just take it from there. It is a great field and I am looking forward to the competition.”

Race day proved to be a day she could chalk up to experience. And sometimes experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want. Against a field of global-championship quality, her rocket-like start just wasn’t there, hampered perhaps by 4 strenuous days of national championship racing the prior weekend. Straining after her subpar start,she hit the line 8th in 11.39. “I didn’t even get the chance to see the start,” laments the veteran who knows that good days and less-than-good days are all part of the sport. “You can’t get too high and you can’t get too low. A lot’s going on. I’m having some slight pain in my knee and I didn’t really know what to expect. I just went out and did the best I could.”

She knows that the Dalai Lama is right: when you lose, don’t lose the lesson. “I am expecting some big things from me now that I am 32,” she says. “When I got into the sport, I would always see the other athletes and a lot of them didn’t take time off or have time with their families. And for me, I had my son and I would never have thought I could come back so well. But one thing I was able to do was to just be patient and take the time and hustle and put in the work. And hopefully I will be rewarded for that. But today, I am just excited about it, just for the journey back.” Looking ahead, Fraser-Pryce is focusing on being at her best in Qatar. “I am definitely running the 100 in the championships in Doha. I’m thinking about running the 200, but let’s see. We have time.”

Even with thoughts of retirement still years away, the many-time global medalist can still reflect on how she would like to be remembered by the sport she loves. “Honestly, I would just want to be remembered as the athlete who never gave up, the athlete who just tried different things. In my career I was able to take the extra time and go beyond what people thought was possible for athletes, what an athlete should be like, what an athlete should look like, what an athlete should run.” But this surefire Hall of Famer isn’t inclined to give legacy much thought until quite later. She is too busy focusing on Doha, and the goals she has for the years to follow. ◻︎

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