Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was on a mission in Rio, Brazil. A mission to create history at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Winning the 100-meter finals would be historic because no athlete had won three consecutive gold medals in the 100-meter race.
In 2007, I had the opportunity of meeting Shelly-Ann Fraser (she wasn’t married then) in Richmond, Virginia. She was a member of the Jamaican athletics squad at the Penn Relays that year. After the Penn Relays, the team was on their way to Virginia State University in Petersburg, Virginia – a sister school to the University of Technology (UTech) where Shelly-Ann was a student and made a stop in Richmond, Virginia for a reception that was hosted by the Association of Jamaicans in Richmond (AJR).
It was at the AJR reception that I met Shelly-Ann Fraser. The coach of the squad, Anthony Davis gave a speech in which he talked about three potential athletes who could go to the Beijing, China Olympics in 2008. I was impressed to learn that there were potential Olympians in the room so I asked one of the U Tech student to introduce me to the potential Olympians. He took me over to a shy looking young woman and introduced me to Shelly-Ann. I said to her, “I hear that you are a good prospect for the Olympics,” she nodded with a modest smile and I said, “If you go to the Olympics I’ll be your biggest fan.” She flashed a wide smile that exposed her braces.
What struck me about Shelly-Ann was her short stature, which did not make her look athletic. It might have been the UTech pullover shirt she was wearing that camouflaged her athletic built and the thick rimmed glasses she was wearing that made her look nerdy rather than an athlete. I took a picture with her and she autographed my program, which someone picked up at my table by mistake.
When I heard that Shelly-Ann was selected on the Jamaica athletic team to the China Olympics I was elated. I was in Toronto, Canada when the China Olympics began and was excited about watching the Olympics their as I believe Canada gives a better coverage of foreign athletes than the US. I did my undergraduate studies in Canada so I was familiar with their coverage of international sporting events.
I remember the day very well, it was about 10:00 AM and the women’s 100-meter final was about to start. Shelly-Ann at 21 years old was the youngest and not experienced at the international level like the three Americans Lauren Williams, Muna Lee, and Torri Edwards.
Shelly-Ann’s age and inexperience was certainly the reasons why the commentator did not seem to consider her a factor in the race. I too had my doubt. The starter set them on their mark and at the sound of the gun Shelly-Ann shot out of the blocks and at about the 50-meter mark she exploded to pull away from the field. That was when I started to jump and scream I thought I would hit the ceiling of the small room. I was still screaming when she hit the tape and was overcome with emotions of joy to see that this athlete that I had met the previous year was now a gold medal winner for Jamaica.
In 2012, Shelly-Ann defended her gold-medal successfully at the London Olympics. So it was with anticipation that I look forward to the Rio Olympics. I believe that she would create history in Rio by winning three consecutive gold medals in the 100-meter race. However, in her prep races this year for the Rio Olympics she did not perform well. She finished last in a field of eight at the Prefontaine Classic in May, then in July she was beaten by Elaine Thompson at the Jamaica trials, and later that same month finished third at the London –Games. It was later revealed that she was recuperating from a foot injury.
The Rio Olympics was where Shelly-Ann would have her rendezvous with Olympic history by being the first woman in track to win three Olympic gold medals in a row. After seeing her in the heat and the semifinal race, I thought she was getting back in form but not quite at her peak. Maybe she would peak just in time to win the final I hoped.
After watching Elaine Thompson won her heat easily, I began having doubts that she could deny Shelly-Ann her historic quest because of her impressive heat win. Elaine had three things going for her: i) she had the psychological advantage of beating Shelly-Ann in the Jamaica trials, ii) she did a faster time than Shelly-Ann in her heat and looked more relaxed, and iii) she’s younger and hungrier. Well the rest is history as the girl from Banana Ground, Manchester won her first Olympic gold medal. Shelly-Ann did not create the history her fans and I hoped for and had to settle for a bronze medal. Nevertheless she has done exceptionally well in her athletic career, made Jamaica proud, and i’m still her biggest fan. Good luck Shelly-Ann in your future endeavor.
Another Athlete I Encouraged who Became an Olympian — Sometimes I joke about how I met Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and gave her the inspiration and encouragement that helped put her on a path to become a famous Olympian. And she is not the first Olympian that I jokingly take credit for helping. Clifton Forbes (deceased) was another Olympian that I encouraged to take up athletics. He represented Jamaica at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico but did not win a medal.
Clifton Forbes and I were classmates at Kingston Technical High School (KTHS) in 1960. He was my prefect in the first and second year classes. In the Spring of our first year, the school’s athletic meet was coming up. This meet was a big rivalry between the four houses – Peet, Denham, Goldsworthy and Harris (former English principals).
Clifton and I were in Peet House, and the senior students were going to classes recruiting for their Houses. It was then that I pleaded with Clifton to run and help Peet House win. My thinking was that because he was tall and athletic he would be able to win the sprints and middle distance races. At first, he was reluctant but I kept pleading with him to run until he yielded.
After a couple of weeks training, Clifton was ready for the big event. That day at the Mico Teacher’s College athletic field he won all his sprint events to help Peet House win the title. Clifton would represent KTHS at the high school championships the following Spring. After graduation from KTHS, Clifton won a track scholarship to Nebraska State University where he honed his athletic skills. In 1967, he won a bronze medal in the 4×400 meter relay at the 1967 Pan American Games. The following year, he represented Jamaica at the Mexico Olympics.
Although I have never competed in any track and field event, I have a strong love for the sport. Maybe that’s why I have this gift —if I may call it that — of playing a role in encouraging two athletes one who achieved Olympic glory and the other achieving the status of an Olympian.
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