Week 99 (21 - 28 August 2015)
Jamaica has an embarrassment of riches in track and field. Not only has the Caribbean island produced some of the sport’s fastest athletes in the past 10 years, it also supplies the sport with its most extrovert and fascinating characters.
The obvious name who ticks both boxes is Usain Bolt. But just as colourful is Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, a five foot one inch rocket who – following her gold medal this week at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing – has the same number of 100m gold medals in major events as Bolt: three in world championships (2009, 2013 and 2015) and two in Olympic Games (2008 and 2012).
Also like Bolt, Fraser-Pryce manages to win in her own individual style, meaning post-race interviews often involve discussions about her latest fashion decisions. Her current look is green-coloured hair lined with sunflowers, which follows on from the purple pony tail she sported at the championships in Moscow in 2013.
“I like colours,” she explained after her win in Beijing. “I like to be bright and bold.”
Whilst Fraser-Pryce is happy discussing fashion after achieving world domination, she’s also conscious not to misrepresent her achievements through levity, adding: “To stand on this podium is something special. It is about sacrificing, training through pain. It’s about being fierce.”
Ahead of these IAAF World Championships, the media made a lot of currency out of the soul of athletics being on the line in Beijing, the fight for good vs evil in the sport being played out between Bolt and the American, Justin Gatlin, who has twice been convicted of doping offences.
As we all know, Bolt ran out the winner in both the 100m and 200m, “saving” the sport in the eyes of some. Yet as Bolt himself has recognised, the sport is bigger than just him.
And he’s right. Bolt may be the sport’s biggest star: he’s a fantastic competitor and hugely popular. But the soul of athletics lies in the multitude of different characters the sport contains.
Fraser-Pryce is a different character. And her happy ability to be a superstar on the track and a normal girl off it is a great example of the individual diversity which athletics can sustain.