Published: Thursday | July 16, 2009
Kerron Stewart ... the fastest woman in the world over 100m this year. - file
When Kerron Stewart sped to the fifth-fastest legitimate 100-metre time ever run by a female sprinter in the history of track and field last Friday in Rome, as far as she was concerned, it was only another stepping stone along the path to becoming world champion next month in Berlin and eventually, perhaps, the greatest female sprinter of all time.
"It feels great. I knew as long as I put my race together, something special was on," she said. "(But) based on my work and what I was doing in practice, it was not a surprise," Stewart said in a television interview after her run.
She clocked 10.75 seconds, beating fellow countrywoman Shelly-Ann Fraser (10.91) and American champion Carmelita Jeter's 11.02 seconds. The time has made her favourite to win the short sprint at the 12th IAAF World Championships.
The only times that have been faster were Florence Griffiths Joyner's 10.49 - the world record: Marion Jones' 10.65; Christine Arron's 10.73; and Merlene Ottey's 10.74 seconds that was recorded at that same stadium in Rome 13 years before.
This is only the starting point, she said, following her fantastic run. "I want to leave a legacy. The fifth (fastest). I'm still a far way off, but you have to start somewhere and fifth place is not a bad place to start."
It's a starting point that puts her one hundredth of a second behind her idol, the legendary Ottey, whom she is already being compared to, and whom she may pass by season's end. "I can't compare myself to Ottey, but if I am compared to her, that's great because she is such a great athlete, a big role model to me, somebody I grew up emulating," Stewart said.
And like Ottey, the St Jago High alum has had her fair share of disappointments at the highest level. The former Auburn Tiger emerged as an elite sprinter last summer when she earned her place to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, her first, by recording what was then the second-fastest time ever run by a Jamaican woman, winning the 100-metre dash at the National Championships last June in 10.80 seconds. Fraser was second, Simpson was third and the reigning champion Veronica Campbell-Brown finished fourth, in 10.88 seconds.
She automatically became the favourite to win in Beijing but she had to settle for a joint silver medal with Simpson while Fraser won the gold in an astonishing 10.78 seconds. Stewart was also bumped down to third in Jamaica's all-time rankings. It was, however, the first time Jamaica had ever swept all the medal places in the sprints at the Olympic Games. Stewart would win a bronze medal in the 200 metres but left the Games unfulfilled and went to work.
"I worked on staying consistent. Knowing that my talent is there, I just needed to build my faith and stay working hard because I am not number one, so I have to work hard because as number two people tend to forget and I don't want to be forgotten in the sport. I want to be remembered," she said.
She has returned this season eager to make up for last season's disappointments and again finds herself the favourite for a major title and more.
Stewart is also unbeaten on the Golden League circuit this season and three more wins put in her line for a share of the US$1 million jackpot. The jackpot, she said in the interview, is not a primary focus for her.
"I am not chasing the Golden League jackpot. I am running each race to win," she said. "Everything is a serious goal for me. Every time I step on the track it's serious because my talent is God-given and I don't play around with stuff like that."
For many athletes, having a shot at the Golden League and at the world title, and being favoured to accomplish both, is pressure that can become too much to bear. Some crack and falter and some rise to the challenge. Stewart intends to be among the latter.
After all, she has always been her own greatest critic. She was hard on herself for not taking home the gold medal in Beijing last August and was very critical of her start which cost her the Jamaican title at the national championships in June where Fraser won in a then world-leading 10.88 seconds.
Having worked to correct the mistakes of her past, she intends to thrive this time around.
"I love the challenge because it shows I am not afraid and it shows your faith and your character," she said. "I am definitely not afraid of any challenge because I know what I am capable of."
The rest of the world is now beginning to know that too.