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Elaine Thompson-Herah's journey started all over again at Tokyo 2020
Elaine Thompson-Herah's journey started all over again at Tokyo 2020

"I think my journey hasn't fully started yet."

For a double Olympic champion to say that may seem strange. But in the case of Elaine Thompson-Herah, who made such a claim in an interview with the Olympic Channel last September, it makes sense.

Five years ago in Rio, Thompson-Herah had toppled the great Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the two-time defending 100 metres women's champion at that point, who had struggled for form having contended with a painful toe injury.

When she followed up with 200m glory she became the first Jamaican to do the sprint double at the same Games. She was only the second from any nation in history do it.

It was as though a ceremonial torch had been passed from Fraser-Pryce, whose rise to stardom had coincided so beautifully with Usain Bolt's in a glorious era for Jamaican sprinting, to Thompson-Herah.

Only the path in sports is never quite so straightforward, and so it proved for Thompson-Herah. 

Just a year later, while Fraser-Pryce was absent having gone into labour with her first child, she placed fifth in the 100m final at the 2017 World Championships in London and did not even compete in the 200m.

Two years later, in Doha, disappointment struck again. Fraser-Pryce had returned to the top of the 100m food chain to reclaim gold. Thompson-Herah placed outside the medals in fourth. In the 200m, she was forced to pull out prior to the semi-finals with a nagging Achilles injury that had plagued her since 2018.

Those injuries were never used as an excuse. Instead it only fuelled a fire inside to return to the top.

"Disappointments do come, but I have to continue to work hard because no athlete goes into a championship to lose. I didn't go to a championship to lose. It was beyond my control," she said in the aforementioned Olympics Channel interview.

"Because sometimes when you have pain you don't want to share it on social media and share it with everybody. When you have pain, you think you can still do your best. I always tell myself that even if I am having pain, I am going to give my 100 per cent, even if it's not going to be 100 per cent, I know I am going to do my best."

Then, as it did for every athlete whether for better or worse, fate intervened. The coronavirus pandemic forced the postponement of the Games. For some, opportunity was denied. For others, there was a chance to hit the reset button.

Thompson-Herah was frustrated that the chance to defend her titles had been delayed but, having started training late in 2020, the extra time proved a blessing.

It has been a very competitive year in the women's 100m. Eight women had clocked a time under 10.90 seconds this season prior to these Games. Jamaicans Fraser-Pryce, Thompson-Herah and Shericka Jackson, the trio who ultimately occupied the podium in the Japanese capital, had gone below 10.80.

The injury niggles continued to trouble Thompson-Herah and forced her to miss a Diamond League Meeting in Gateshead. It also left her fearing she may not be able to compete at the Jamaican trials in June, where she placed third behind Fraser-Pryce and Jackson.

But just earlier this month she ran a 10.71 in Hungary, her fastest since 2017 and just outside her previous personal best of 10.70.

The confidence was growing and yet the spotlight was largely still on Fraser-Pryce, who was attempting to make history as the first woman to win a single athletics event three times.

But Thompson-Herah has now emulated her great compatriot by going back-to-back in the 100m – something Fraser-Pryce achieved at Beijing in 2008 and London 2012.

What is even more impressive is the way she did it. A final tipped to thrill lived up to its billing at a time when Tokyo 2020 needs its marquee events to deliver the goods.

Fraser-Pryce got off to a flier but from 60m onwards there was only ever winner. A time of 10.61 marks a new Olympic record, and the second fastest ever run in the women's 100m. There could have been no more perfect moment to pull the performance of a lifetime out of the bag.

Her victory in an event dubbed the "Race of the Games" completes an emotional return to the pinnacle. From bursting onto the scene, through the injury troubles, peaking at the right time – all have culminated in Thompson-Herah once more scaling the mountain.

This was the moment her journey began again.

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