In 2008, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce made Olympic history at the Beijing Games, when she and fellow Jamaican sprinters Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart won their island’s first-ever podium sweep in the women’s 100m final.
The then 21-year-old Fraser-Pryce ran the event in 10.78 seconds to claim gold, just a day after Olympic legend Usain Bolt won his – and his country’s – first-ever men’s 100m Olympic crown.
At this year’s Tokyo Olympics, a streak of green, black and yellow flashed past the finish line in the women’s 100m final once again, when Team Jamaica earned a clean sweep of the podium – this time with Elaine Thompson-Herah, Fraser-Pryce and Shericka Jackson taking gold, silver and bronze respectively.
“I guess I had the honor of being a part of both,” Fraser-Pryce told CNN Sport’s Coy Wire.
“Look at us, we’re in the right colors. I mean, it’s awesome […] to be able to rise to the top of the world again,” she adds.
‘God has been good to us’
It’s been 13 years since Fraser-Pryce last stood shoulder-to-shoulder on an Olympic podium with her teammates after the women’s 100m, and she says victory tastes sweeter the second time around.
“I think, boy, you know, God has been good to us. We are a blessed, blessed nation,” she says, paying homage to her predecessors, including Merlene Ottey and Deon Hemmings – the first ever Jamaican woman to win Olympic gold.
For Thompson-Herah, who grew up watching Fraser-Pryce as a youngster, having the opportunity to share such a momentous victory is “a wonderful feeling.”
“I’ve seen that when I was not an elite athlete watching back home,” she says. “So for us to repeat that once more, it’s a good feeling to be a part of that history, and to be amongst these ladies.”
Two-time Olympian Thompson-Herah made history on Saturday, when she broke Florence Griffith-Joyner’s 33-year-old record set in Seoul to win the gold with a time of 10.61 seconds. But she doesn’t want the excitement of one Olympic victory to cloud the chance of another.
“Honestly, I’m shaking right now […] I’m speechless,” Thompson-Herah says. “I have to just continue to have that focus. I don’t want to drain my energy off getting too excited for the first medal […] I have goosebumps.”
She went on to win the women’s 200m final on Tuesday, becoming the first ever woman to win the 100m and 200m sprint double at two consecutive Olympic Games.
When hard work pays off
Defending champion Thompson-Herah, who won the women’s 100m title during her first Games at Rio in 2016, says she appreciates the sacrifices that athletes and their teams make to keep their Olympic dreams alive.
“It takes a lot of hard work and dedication and sacrifice […] for us as athletes. I don’t think people know what we have gone through. We don’t party, we don’t drink, we don’t eat bad,” she says.
“For us to come out here on an international platform to raise our flag […], our anthem is actually our prayer. So for that to play twice in the Olympic Stadium, it warms my heart,” she adds.
After the Games were postponed for a year in March 2020 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the emotional and financial burden of training for Tokyo 2020 was exacerbated – something Fraser-Pryce can attest to.
“I think it was very difficult because for a lot of us […] you can’t travel, a lot of Covid tests. You have to make sure that you’re otherwise restricted in certain areas. I know for me at the gym, I have to be lifting in a mask and I don’t think that’s healthy, but you know, it’s something that you have to do,” she says.
“I think when each of us go home and we look at our medal, we’ll understand that how great of an achievement we have done, given the circumstances,” Fraser-Pryce adds.
When Thompson-Herah, Fraser-Pryce and Jackson crossed the finish line on Saturday, they were met with little cheering, due to Tokyo’s coronavirus state of emergency and lack of fans throughout much of the Games.
But for 27-year-old Jackson, the welcome from Japanese fans has been energetic nonetheless. “It’s a great feeling here. I love it here,” she says.
Her teammates agree, with Fraser-Pryce adding that, “the reception and the people, just the joy and the energy is just unlike anywhere else we’ve been.”
A smashing comeback
For four-time Olympian Fraser-Pryce, a global pandemic has been just one of the many challenges that she’s faced during her career.
In 2017, she had an emergency C-section when she had her son Zyon, subsequently taking two years away from the track to rehabilitate and focus on motherhood.
However, she made a impressive comeback in 2019, when she won the women’s 100m final at the World Championships in Doha to stake her claim as one of the greatest female sprinters of all time.
Now, she says that being able to return to the track from pregnancy and still make her mark as one of the fiercest competitors of her sport, “means the world.”
“As an athlete, there are so many things you don’t want to do to risk your career,” she says. “There’s not a lot of women who decide to start a family and come back, not a lot of women also get praised for it. There’s always critics that be like, ‘Oh, she’s finished, she needs to go home and raise her child, she needs to stop thinking about track,’ stuff like that.”
“It was hard but you know, I’m grateful for the resilience and the gift that God has given me and I never lose hope in that, if you never lose hope, or stop believing in the things that you believe, first, then you know the sky’s the limit,” she adds.
Running their best race
Thompson-Herah, who has been battling lower leg and Achilles injuries over the last few years, says that speaking positive affirmations to remedy her nerves has been crucial to her Olympic success.
“My friends and my husband taught me don’t be negative, just be positive. And I’ve been doing that for the past couple of years,” she says, “I’ve been struggling with injuries […] I still come out here, even with the nerves that I have behind those smiles.”
Fraser-Pryce agrees, saying that “there’s nothing wrong with speaking what you desire, what you want to achieve.”
Fraser-Pryce, who crossed the line 0.13 seconds after Thompson-Herah at the women’s 100m final, admits that there’s a fine line between wanting to win medals for your country versus yourself.
“I think it’s normal to be competitors and understand that we all want to win. We want to go out and want to run our best race,” she says. “So you still have to take what you can from it, even in your disappointment, you have to take the good from it. I don’t think there’s any hard feelings.”
She also recognizes that their competitive desire to beat each other has elevated them as a team.
“If you have competitors that continue to push you, then you’re able to get to the target that you set for yourself as well,” she says. “If I’m lining up at the line, I want to line up with my fiercest competitors […] I can’t make any mistakes because I have to be ready to perform under pressure.”
The trio recognizes that with their collective achievement, they could inspire a generation of young Jamaicans to replicate history once again.
“I’m just excited for all of us and what it means for the young girls back home,” Fraser-Pryce says. “I think it speaks to just the dominance and the legacy that we have in Jamaica. And I’m hoping that it continues for years to come.”
“None of us here are from privileged backgrounds. We all had a hard time growing up. And to look at us, I think we represent the hope of so many girls from the country […] we represent different parts of Jamaica,” she adds.