Jamaica's Pocket Rocket Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce insists she's not stuck in shadow of Lightning Bolt
Fraser-Pryce still grabs headlines at home despite the popularity of a certain Usain
Friday 29 March 2013
It was 7am on a Saturday and a small yellow car pulled up at the fence of the grass track at the U Tech campus on Old Hope Road, a mile or so up the street from Bob Marley's former home. Out climbed Jamaica's Olympic 100 metres champion – or Jamaica's other Olympic 100m champion, as Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce has become known to the world.
Across town, they had probably only just locked up at the Fiction Lounge, the nightclub frequented by the men's Olympic 100m champion, part of the complex that includes Usain Bolt's Tracks and Records, a bar, restaurant and music venue where you can buy Usain Bolt sauce and Usain Bolt coffee beans. Fraser-Pryce smiled at the mention of the establishment and the suggestion that – to the world beyond her Caribbean homeland at least – she was stuck in the shadow of the world's fastest man and the Lightning Bolt phenomenon.
"I've gone to Tracks and Records," she says. "I go there with my friends to eat and have fun. To me, Usain is Usain. He's doing wonderful. He deserves all of the attention he gets. For a man that's running so fast, he deserves it. I never feel I'm living in anybody's shadow. I never feel that, 'Oh, I deserve this amount of attention.' No I'm fine."
Jamaica's other Olympic 100m champion – indeed, the country's only other winner of an Olympic 100m crown, a feat she achieved, like Bolt, in both Beijing 2008 and London 2012 – happens to be a fine athlete in her own right and a very fine individual.
Fraser-Pryce was raised in the Kingston ghetto of Waterhouse, amid gangstas, guns and abject poverty. Her mother Maxine, a single parent, worked as a street vendor, earning them barely enough for an evening meal. When she started running, at the age of 10, she did so barefoot. Her family did not escape the ghetto violence. A cousin was shot dead.
And yet, at 26, the diminutive double-barrelled speed merchant – "the Pocket Rocket", as the Jamaican press call her – is an ever-smiling, unfailingly courteous 5ft ray of Caribbean sunshine. She is also one of only three women to have retained the Olympic 100m title, having followed in the spikemarks of the Americans Wyomia Tyus (1964 and 1968) and Gail Devers (1992 and 1996) when she crossed the finish line in London last August ahead of her US rival Carmelita Jeter in 10.75sec.
If she remains a somewhat under-valued sporting commodity on the international stage, dwarfed by the 6ft 5in Bolt, the same is not true in her homeland. On the drive into town from Norman Manley International Airport, there are as many advertising hoardings featuring the beaming Shelly-Ann as there are of the beanpole Bolt and the beastly Yohan Blake.
It is clear, after five days in town – two of them spent at Champs, the remarkable boys' and girls' schools' championships which fills the National Stadium, and from which Bolt, Blake, Fraser-Pryce and her training partner Asafa Powell have all emerged as world-beaters or world record-breakers in the blue riband 100m – that she commands as much respect as Jamaica's trail-blazing male sprinters.
"Yeah, I do," she acknowledged, ahead of early morning training with the MVP (Maximum Velocity and Power) sprint group coached by Stephen Francis at the University of Technology track. "I am huge here in Jamaica, right.
"Yesterday I sat in the National Stadium and I couldn't even get a chance to watch the races because I was having so many pictures taken and signing autographs. But this is where I train. This is home. This is where a lot of our younger athletes, our fans, get to see us and they realise that we're just as human as they are. We interact with the crowd and participate in things here.
"I love being here in Jamaica. When I go to Europe I'm not as recognised as I am here but it doesn't matter to me because I let my running speak for itself. I just go out and I compete and I enjoy what I do. It doesn't matter what anybody else in the outside world says. This is what I love doing."
It would probably be a little different if, like the Lightning Bolt, the Pocket Jamaican Rocket was blasting through the world record book. But, then, the women's world record for the 100m stands at an untouchable 10.49sec, set back in 1988 by Florence Griffith-Joyner, who promptly retired at the peak of her powers after the introduction of random drug testing in the wake of the Seoul Olympics and who died at the age of 38 in 1998.
Fraser-Pryce might be a double Olympic champion at the distance but she has not come within 0.20sec of Flo-Jo's mark – a street in sprinting terms. "Yeah," she reflected, "if a female athlete were to break that world record then of course they'd get a lot of attention. But, for me, as an athlete, the goal is always to go faster than I've gone the year before. And last year I ran 10.70sec.
"I went to the Olympics and I didn't run the way I wanted to but I still won, which for me gives me a lot of confidence as an athlete. I've come back here and I'm training really hard and I don't really look at the world record.
"Anything is possible. I'm a believer in God and if I work hard and continue to trust Him, who knows what will happen? But I'm not one of those persons who fantasise about breaking the world record. The aim is always to go faster than I've gone before."
Fastest female 100m runners
- 10.49 Florence Griffith-Joyner (US) 1988
- 10.64 Carmelita Jeter (US) 2009
- 10.65 Marion Jones (US) 1998
- 10.70 SHELLEY-ANN FRASER-PRYCE (Jamaica) 2012
- 10.73 Christine Arron (France) 1998
- 10.74 Merlene Ottey (Jam/Slovenia) 1996
- 10.75 Kerron Stewart (US) 2009
- 10.76 Evelyn Ashford (US) 1984
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