Champs experience set stage for future success, says Thompson-Herah

Athletics

Champs experience set stage for future success, says Thompson-Herah

BY PAUL A REID
Observer writer
reidp@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, September 11, 2020

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Double Olympic Games sprint gold medallist Elaine Thompson-Herah believes her failure to stamp her class at the popular Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) Boys' and Girls' Athletics Championships has fuelled her desire to succeed at the professional level.

Being under the radar of the overseas scouts and forced to stay home where she came under the tutelage of sprint guru Stephen Francis, she says, could have led directly to her big breakout year in 2015 and winning double gold medals in the 100m and 200m at the Rio Olympics a year later.

In an interview with Dalton Myers on the Drive Phase podcast recently, Thompson-Herah, who attended Manchester High School but missed competing at the annual championships (Champs) in her final year of eligibility, admitted that despite not being among the 'stars', the largest high school track and field championships in the world played a huge part in her development.

“I think Champs helped to prepare me even though I was not a top athlete or favourite,” she told the Drive Phase. “Champs helped to get me where I am at now; I was not overworked at all because I am a late bloomer and there is a thinking that some athletes who did not win at Champs, those who did not get into the top might have been the best of the crop and I fall into that category. I didn't get a medal at Champs but here I am with (Olympic) medals.”

Thompson-Herah is among several athletes from the Maximum Velocity Performance (MVP) Track and Field Club who were not high school stand-out athletes but developed later to be world beaters, including former men's 100m World Record holder Asafa Powell and World Championships long jump champion Tajay Gayle.

Not doing well as a junior, she said, was a big reason for her to work so hard to get to her goals. “I think it helped me to motivate myself and to work hard. I did not go to Carifta Games or Penn Relays while I was in high school and looking back at that I think it helped [me] to even work harder and I am an international athlete now. Looking back I don't think I missed anything but I would probably want to get that little spotlight, but those who are doing well at that level will make the transition to the next level.”

Despite not grabbing the headlines in high school, she did enough to catch the eyes of present MVP Head Coach Paul Francis, who made his interest known to her through an intermediary and she said staying close to family was also a big deal for her.

Francis, she said, met with her father where he made a scholarship offer for her to attend the University of Technology (UTech), Jamaica, but things did not take off at once.

“I did not do so well in the first year (2014) as I had an old injury and that was a learning experience for me and then I made the 4x100m team to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.”

Then came the 2015 season when she forced the track and field world to sit up and take notice that a new sprint sensation had arrived when she ran sub 11.00 seconds four times and her personal best 21.66 seconds for second place in the 200m at the World Championships in China, the fifth-fastest time ever for a woman.

She failed to win a 200m race only twice in the year from 12 races.

She started innocuously enough by winning the 100m at the Inter-Collegiate Championships then broke the 11-second barrier for the first time at the UTech Classic, an eye-opening 10.92 seconds, but her real moment came in mid-April at the Jamaica International Invitational (JII).

After her 11.10 seconds time at Inter-Collegiate Championships, she said she “panicked” as she thought she had run too fast too soon but she said her coach disagreed saying she had not run as fast as he expected her to go.

“Everything was happening so fast, I did not expect to run so fast so quickly,” Thompson-Herah said. “I was just putting in the work, I did not expect to run so quick and running 10.9 twice, it was shocking to me.”

At the JII meet in a field that included Blessing Okagbare, Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh, Thompson-Herah said she felt no fear at all.

“When I heard that I got invited (to the JII meet) I said to myself this is a big meet I have to put on a show, that's the only meet I was not nervous, I was just ready to compete. The race took a while to start but I was so calm, when I crossed the line I saw another 10.9 seconds and I was beating all those girls. I was speechless. I did not know how to react I just walked away, my friends are always asking why I don't celebrate.”

With the big scalps on her belt and her confidence further bolstered, she headed to the PreFontaine Classic, her first Diamond League event, and while wearing the UTech uniform lowered her six-week-old personal best to 10.84 seconds, finishing second in the second section of the women's 100m to American English Gardner, who had the same time.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce won the other section in 10.81 seconds, edging Muriel Ahoure, who was given the same time with Tori Bowie third in 10.82 seconds.

“It was just flowing for me, 2015 was my year to break out and I just could not control that,” Thompson-Herah said as she won the 200m at the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association National trials after being held out of the 100m.

She would go on to take the silver medal in the 200m at the World Championships in China that year, running a then personal best 21.66 seconds behind Dutch woman Dafne Schippers' personal best 21.63 seconds, the third best all times.

For Thompson-Herah, the second-best Jamaican over the distance of all times, only behind Merlene Ottey's 21.64 seconds set in 1991, a year before she was born, the experience in China was positive. “The experience was good, I was calm and cool. This was huge for me, I did not expect to run 21.6, I gave it my all.”


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