Every day, athlete Elaine Thompson-Herah speaks loudly for herself. Words she often wrote down on her phone after a workout. her mantra, confirmations English.
This is what she said just before the Olympics in Tokyo last year: ‘I run 10.5. I’m going 21.5. ‘ Meals for the 100 and 200 meter sprints.
And then: ‘I can do it. I’m a winner. I’m a master. I won double gold at the Olympics. I run around the bend. I explode and jump from the starting blocks to the first thirty meters. I want to train super hard. I want to be the fastest woman on earth. Say it, believe it, work for it and pray for it. ‘
Once again: ‘I will be a double Olympic champion. Today is my day. I am the best.’
And Jamaican Thompson (30) was the best. Two golds, in the 100 and 200 meters, just like in ‘Rio’ in 2016. During her Olympic 100 meter race in Tokyo, she also broke the Olympic record of the American Florence Griffith-Joyner with her 10.61 from 1988.
One time still stands: the world record of 100 meters, 10.49. Also from Griffith, also from ’88. A controversial achievement due to (unproven) speculations about doping, and the strong wind that would have helped Griffith.
It is a time that seemed unattainable for decades. But perhaps, it is increasingly speculated, Thompson can also handle this record. And maybe she can even break it this weekend, during the World Championships in Athletics in Eugene, America, where she hopes to win her first world title in the hundred meters on Sunday. What does it take? And what makes Thompson so good?
Thompson was born in Banana Ground in the interior of Jamaica. After her two gold medals in Rio, a local politician sponsored a road sign: “Welcome to Banana Ground, home of Olympic champions‘above Thompson with a waving Jamaican flag in his outstretched arms.
In this small farming community with banana trees and sweet potato fields, Thompson took his first steps. She grew up with her grandmother, Hycenth ‘Gloria’ Thompson (74), who took her into her home as a baby and took her to primary school, where she taught. Then little Elaine slept peacefully in a cot.
She was a fast child at a young age, Gloria tells by telephone from her colorful home in – still – Banana Ground. “When I asked her to pick something up from the store across the street, she sprinted to it. I do not know why. That probably put me in her place. “
Like so many Jamaican high school students, the fast boy found his way to the running track: the national sport is also a way out of poverty.
But Thompson was not immediately a resounding success, says Jamaican sports journalist Paul Reid, who has followed her for years. “She was okay, but certainly not the best. It is said that she was not motivated enough, a little lazy.”
“When I was young, I never won,” Thompson himself said on BBC radio last year. Laughs: “In my head I was fast. But other girls were faster than me. “She just liked athletics, she says. Because of her” love of the sport, “she kept going.
Sportingly, Thompson clicked in earnest when she was admitted to the team by renowned coach Stephen Francis after high school in 2014. There, she became a teammate with sprint-sized Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who is five years older than her and beyond. time already had Olympic and world titles to her name.
Francis “really knows how to motivate athletes,” Reid says. It is a ‘hard regime’. “He shouts, he snorts. He goes over it with the whip.”
Under Francis, Thompson develops rapidly. In 2015, she won silver in the 200 meters and gold in the 4 x 100 meters relay at the World Championships. In 2016 in Rio, she won her first Olympic gold – in the 100 and 200 meters.
Where does her drive come from?
Thompson herself says she’s extra eager because she used to be “not a winner”. “It makes me more competitive, I work harder,” she told the BBC.
Her grandmother Gloria, who raised her, has another explanation: Elaine’s mother Rose. She was “fourteen or fifteen” when Elaine was born. “I did not want such a young girl to raise a child,” Gloria says. “Let me do it,” I said. Like Elaine’s father, Gloria’s third son, Rose remained involved. “She often came by, lived nearby. I would like to give her some space. “
Elaine has remained her mother’s only child. Gloria: “She has always said: I want to make sure I can take good care of my mother later. She is very sad that her mother does not have other children and understands why Rose could not take care of her. ”
In any case, Elaine, whom she sees more as a daughter than a granddaughter, is an empathetic person. “Every year at Christmas, she brings a large pile of packed lunches to the residents of Banana Ground. Not because the residents are so poor, but because she realizes how much love she was surrounded by as a child. Long before she became famous, I said to her: If you go far, do not forget Banana Ground. That’s your foundation. “
For the same reason, Thompson last year founded The FastElaine Foundation, an organization that supports vulnerable children. “It was not easy for her as a girl,” says Gloria. “We had little money. So if she can help someone, she’s help them.”
39.7 kilometers per hour
Since last year, Thompson has got a new coach: her husband, former sprinter Derron Herah. When asked what it is like to train his own wife, he laughs. Not at all as difficult as one might think, says Herah, precisely because she is so motivated. “She wants to be the best ever. She has so much discipline.” According to him, she can also handle disappointments, such as the Achilles tendon injury, which has haunted her for years.
And the 10.49 from Griffith, can she break that time? Yes, says Herah resolutely. He does not want to “put a date on it”, but “eventually she will succeed”.
Elaine Thompson herself also believes that there is more waiting for her. After her Olympic record in Tokyo, where she reached 39.7 kilometers per hour at her fastest, she coolly said she could have gone faster. Even before the finish, she had raised her left arm to celebrate the victory, a move reminiscent of signature movement by compatriot Usain Bolt. But she immediately regretted that arm. If she could run the race again, she would not have done it until after the finish.
Shortly after the Games, Thompson improved his time in Tokyo again at a Diamond League match in Eugene. Her time: 10.54, the second fastest time ever.
If anyone can run the world record at 100 meters, says former hurdles runner and NOS commentator Gregory Sedoc, then it’s Thompson. “She has the ultimate combination of strength and technique, she has really technically elevated sprint to an art. Every step she takes hits the spot. She controls everything, just like Flo-Jo [Griffith-Joyner]. ”
It was already seen in 2015, says Sedoc, at the world championships in Beijing, where Dafne Schippers won 200 meters and Thompson just finished second. “I was really thinking: wow, if she can continue this. And she’s gotten a lot better since then. With more peace of mind and more confidence. ”
But, says Sedoc, make no mistake: Thompson is part of “a golden crop,” whose most formidable competitor is her former teammate Fraser-Pryce, one of the most decorated athletes in history. Previously, only a “selected” group of women sometimes ran under 11 seconds in the 100 meters. ‘Now even Europeans are doing it. But you’re boss over boss. Especially Fraser-Pryce, Thompson, it’s another level. Almost bizarre. ”
But in addition to the two big names, other women are also pushing: In the athletics championships in his own country, Thompson finished third in the 100 meters this year, and Fraser-Pryce did not even participate. “Elaine has to work for her place,” says sports journalist Reid. But that, he says, is good for her – and for everyone else. “The push each other.”
The faithful Gloria, who regularly attends the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Jamaica with Elaine, believes the Lord will decide this weekend whether the world record will be broken. “Make sure you get in touch with him before you hit the pitch, I urged her. She promised to do so.”
A version of this article was also published in the newspaper on July 16, 2022