That mile-wide smile would come a split-second later. When Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce saw her name come up first Sunday night in the 100-meter final, she pumped her right fist in the air twice and let out a loud scream toward the stands. (Watch the video below.)
And shame on anyone who thought it was over for Jamaica’s favorite 35-year-old mom — the country’s most-celebrated 100-meter runner this side of Usain Bolt.
Fraser-Pryce sped her way back to the top of the sprint game, winning her fifth world title in the 100 — that’s two more than Bolt amassed during his decade of dominance — by leading a Jamaican sweep and knocking off the favorite, two-time Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah.
“So many people believe that when women turn 35, it somehow diminishes our gift, our talent,” Fraser-Pryce said. “But I’m still able to line up and compete, and that is very special.”
Running out of Lane 6, Fraser-Pryce led all the way on a gorgeous, 74-degree night in Oregon and crossed the line in 10.67 seconds. She beat Shericka Jackson by 0.06 seconds while Thompson-Herah finished a surprising third in 10.81.
The smile came later. Lots of them, in fact.
With her blonde hair cinched into a braid up top, and with green-tinted locks flowing in the breeze, Fraser-Pryce offered smiles and took selfies with the fans as she jogged through her victory lap.
It was a different scene than last year in Tokyo, when she seemed puzzled and frustrated at how she could’ve finished second to Thompson-Herah at the Olympics by such a sizable margin — 0.13.
“I went back home and I worked and I worked and I came out here, and I had the success,” the beaming sprinter said in her on-track interview.
The night began with thought that Thompson-Herah might knock off Florence Griffith-Joyner’s 34-year-old world record of 10.49. Less than a year ago, Thompson-Herah ran 10.54 on this very same track in the Prefontaine Classic to join Flo Jo as the only other woman to go lower than 10.6.
Fraser-Pryce has run exactly 10.6 before, though, and instead of Flo Jo’s record going down, it was one held by Marion Jones — her 23-year-old world championship mark of 10.70 — that went by the wayside.
Fraser-Pryce adds this to world titles she won in the 100 in 2009, ’13, ’15 and ’19. She also won the Olympics in 2008 and 2012.
It was no huge surprise that the aftermath in the corridors of the stadium felt like a party.
Dozens of ticketholders wearing “Shelly-Ann” T-shirts — complete with a picture of her, back in the day, when she still wore braces — were making their way to the exits, a few of them high-fiving.
One of them, a former elite sprinter in Jamaica, Errol Byles, told of meeting Fraser-Pryce on an airplane. They exchanged numbers, and stayed in touch. Before worlds, he asked her to send some shirts, and they wore them with pride walking out.
Byles reminisced about the vibe in Jamaica when the 21-year-old then known as Shelly-Ann Fraser qualified for her first Olympics, back in 2008. She was too young, the skeptics said, and had no business taking the spot that could’ve gone to the reigning world champion at the time, Veronica Campbell-Brown.
Fraser did take that spot, then led a Jamaican sweep in the 100. It felt like a bit of an undercard to Bolt’s hot-dogging, world-record-setting victory the night before. Still, a star was born.
“She has the heart of a champion and she’s determined to prove everybody wrong,” Byles said. “Now that she’s older and she’s a mom, there are some that think she’s not as good as the others. But she’s determined to prove otherwise, and she’s doing that.”
And so, a night after the U.S. swept the podium in the men’s 100, Fraser-Pryce and Co., showed there remains plenty of speed down on the island.
Thompson-Herah, who paced slowly, several steps behind Fraser-Pryce and Jackson, during the start of the victory lap, expressed mixed emotions.
“It means a lot to us. We have been working hard,” she said. “One-two-three at the Olympics, and one-two-three at championships. Even though I wanted to win, it didn’t work out. But I’m still keeping the journey going.”
So too, it turns out, is Fraser-Pryce.
Her latest victory marks the defense of the title she won in 2019, a win that came two years after she missed the worlds in London while having her baby, her now 4-year-old son, Zyon. She called that “a victory for motherhood.”
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