RJR Sports Awards Nominee | Fast. Fearless. Fraser-Pryce
RJR Sports Foundation National Sportswoman of the Year 2016 nominee Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce strode into the Olympic year with a great 2015 season behind her and important goals ahead. In the year that had just ended, she had retained her World 100-metre crown and was rightly named Sportswoman of the Year. In the year to come, she had a chance to become the first woman to win the Olympic gold medal in the 100 metres three times. Restricted by injury, she sprinted through pain to win the bronze medal.
That made her the most successful female 100-metre sprinter in Olympic history, outdoing the American pair of Wyomia Tyus and Gail Devers, who had both won the coveted title twice. Neither had endured long enough to face the starter in a third Olympic 100 final.
Fraser-Pryce's achievement is even more remarkable when a nagging toe injury is considered. She contributed a majestic anchor leg run to a 4x100 metre relay win at the Western Relays in February, but soon stories of pain began to emerge.
"Training was going great in my background season. I was hitting the times and getting the work done and then, unexpectedly, I had a recurrence of an injury and it set me back quite a bit, but to be honest, as an athlete, you have to prepare for things like that mentally, so I am just trying to work through all the pain to try and get ready for the Olympics," said Fraser-Pryce during a pre-meet press conference in May.
"I had this problem last year, so it's my second year running with this injury, but it has got worse," she revealed. "We are trying to get that fixed, and right now, we are still trying to get pressure off the toe and see how best we can work around this."
Her time - 11.18 seconds - and her finish position - eighth - cast a huge contrast for a woman who had broken the 11-second barrier eight times in 2015. Yet it was a triumph. She was at last able to race, thanks to creative training schedules and shoes inserts designed to mitigate the impact of each painful footfall. A close 11.09-second win over World Indoor champion Barbara Pierre at the inaugural Racers Grand Prix in Kingston provided more encouragement.
The first sign of how much the little dynamo was suffering came at the National Senior Championships. Racing behind a sensational Elaine Thompson, who joined her as Jamaican record holder at 10.70 seconds, Fraser-Pryce grimaced in pain once she had secured the runner-up spot and the right to defend her title in Rio de Janeiro, home of the 2016 Olympic Games. Her time of 10.93 was her fastest of the year, but the pain was mounting.
By the time she got to Rio, she had been able to train and race, but according to Olympic head coach Maurice Wilson, the pain was back.
"In the heats and semis, we saw when she came off the field, obviously in a lot of pain," said Wilson. After a pluperfect 10.98 from the outside lane in the heats, she accelerated to 10.88 seconds in the semi-final, and 10.86 for bronze in the final, with Thompson and American Tori Bowie ahead of her.
That was her 41st 100-metre run quicker than 11 seconds. The only Jamaicans with more are Merlene Ottey and Veronica Campbell-Brown.
Wilson believes that the pain affected her efforts.
"It's going to create some doubt irrespective of how strong you are," he explained, "and I personally believe that when someone can go to the Olympics with a major injury, based on what we were told, and come out with a medal, it speaks volumes of her courage."
Wilson's observation is supported by another comment by the champion.
"I am one of those athletes who are able to run through pain because I believe that all athletes, in order to get to where they need to, there is some amount of pain you will feel," she underlined, "but I think I have surpassed my threshold, and I am just trying to stay focused and stay in the game."
Wilson also notes that the malady cost her valuable training time.
"We must remember that this was a young lady who would have missed quite a number of weeks from training because of the injury," he insisted.
Despite the double-barrelled dilemma of pain and missed training, Fraser Pryce made history in Rio with her bronze medal. On the clock, she logged four sub-11 clockings during the 2016 campaign, with her fastest race of the season coming in the most important race of the year - the Olympic final. It's no wonder she is again a nominee for the National Sportswoman of the Year Award.
The awards ceremony takes place on Friday, January 13, at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel.