It’s not often the Olympic women’s 100m overshadows its male equivalent, but in Tokyo this weekend it’s hard to see anything but that occurring, drawing together as it does two of the all-time greats of the event.
For those who dip their toes into track waters once every four years, their names might not be ultra-familiar, but in the square-off between Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce and Elaine Thompson-Herah, athletics anoraks are anticipating a clash for the ages.
Barring calamity in the 100m semi-finals this morning, they will settle into their blocks at 1:50pm Irish time and after about 10.6 seconds of blazing, brilliant speed, one will be crowned champion, staking a very legitimate claim to being the greatest of all time.
Those first few steps will prove decisive, and no one in history is as good in that department as Fraser-Pryce. The two-time Olympic and four-time world 100m champion is running better than ever this year, clocking a Jamaican record of 10.63 in Kingston at the age of 34.
The effect of the so-called super-spikes was clearly in evidence during yesterday’s women’s 100m heats, with a slew of national records, highlighted by Marie-Josee Ta Lou’s 10.78. But if there is a threat to Fraser-Pryce winning her third Olympic 100m title, then it will come from Thompson-Herah who looked in ominous form, sauntering to victory in 10.82.
Britain’s golden girl Dina Asher-Smith will surely be in the mix, but it’s hard to see the 25-year-old having enough to match the Jamaicans, her best gold medal chance coming in the 200m where she is reigning world champion.
While sport has moved past a time whereby motherhood was considered a hindrance to high-performance, Fraser-Pryce’s achievements still shredded the notion it would blunt ability in speed or power events.
Fraser-Pryce was preparing to defend her 100m world title in 2017 when she learned she was pregnant, and she gave birth to her son, Zyon, in August that year. She dipped under 11 seconds in her first season back in 2018 before crushing her rivals to win the world title in 2019, clocking 10.71. She breezed through her heat yesterday in 10.84 and should go much, much quicker in today’s final. The rest of the world will try their best to go with her, and Thompson-Herah will be closing her down over the latter half. But more often than not, it’s a futile pursuit.
The men’s final will take place on Sunday, also at 1:50pm Irish time, and if you’re wondering why the names populating the start line look unfamiliar, it’s because that previously clear-cut definition of world’s fastest man is now more muddled than ever.
You could argue it’s Usain Bolt — the fastest man alive — though the Jamaican has been retired for four years. You could argue it’s Christian Coleman, the reigning world 100m champion, but the 25-year-old American is currently serving an 18-month ban for missing drugs tests.
So, who will it be?
This weekend the world will likely get introduced to a 26-year-old American who seems poised to become the first Olympic 100m champion for 17 years not named Bolt. At least if he runs to form.
Athletics anoraks will be familiar with Trayvon Bromell’s story, but for many he will be a new name and, what’s more, his is one of the most stirring comeback tales. In 2016 he exploded on the scene as a fresh-faced 20-year-old, winning the world indoor 60m title in Portland and reaching the Olympic 100m final in Rio, where he finished eighth.
In the subsequent relay he aggravated a long-running achilles tendon issue and had to be taken from the track in a wheelchair, missing most of 2017 and all of 2018. He returned in 2019 but was soon sidelined with a hip injury, and the sport’s next big thing was soon forgotten.
“(There were) days where I get no phone calls, I did no interviews, nobody cared about Trayvon,” he said. “The only person that cared about me was God, my family.” He grew up on the south side of St Petersburg, Florida, a deprived area where his mother worked 12-hour days to make ends meet. Bromell has more than made something of himself since, getting a master’s degree in business and signing a lucrative seven-figure sponsorship deal with New Balance in 2015. That was negotiated by his manager, Ricky Simms, a native of Milford in Donegal.
If all goes well through the rounds, Bromell will line up poised to join Bolt in the pantheon of Olympic champions. He has won 15 of his last 16 races and clocked 9.77 this year. His biggest challenge will likely come from his compatriots, Ronnie Baker and Fred Kerley, while South Africa’s Akani Simbine will also be dangerous. Bromell is the fastest starter among them — half the battle in a race like this.