One is tall, the other short. One is male, the other female but in many ways, Usain Bolt and Shelly Ann Frazer-Pryce are similar. They both emerged from humble backgrounds. They have both been blessed with considerable talent and they are the best 100 metre sprinters of all time. Since 2008 both have dominated the short sprint like no one else has.
So similar have their careers been that the only blemish on the 100-metre careers came in the same year – 2011 – when Bolt false-started in the men’s 100 metres and Frazer-Pryce finished fourth in a season that was beset by injury.
This year however, they have had difference paths to their respective third World titles.
Bolt came into the 2014/2015 season healthy. In 2014, a non-championship year Bolt underwent surgery on his foot and missed most of the background season and did not compete for much of the year. He opened his season late and ran only three races before shutting down. Word was that he trained well last October through into January 2015 and was training well. Fit, he was looking for a drama-free, injury free run-in to the World Championships set for Beijing, China. However, once he opened his season with a promotional run in Brazil, trouble began to emerge. Many wrote off his 10.12s run in Rio as race rust but then after three 200-metre runs of 20.20s in Kingston in April, 20.13 in Ostrava in May, and a woeful 20.29 in New York in June, Bolt was openly worried. He was baffled by his inability to turn on the legendary speed for which he had become known globally since he destroyed a world class field at the Olympics in Beijing China.
“I got out of the blocks and I just didn’t go anywhere,” Bolt said. “After the turn, I just gave up, pretty much”. And so did many of his fans.
Meanwhile, American Justin Gatlin was having the season of his life. He opened in Doha in May with a world-leading and personal best time of 9.74 in the 100m and then reeled off times of 9.75, 9.75, 10.02 and 9.78 sending a clear warning that he intended to unseat Bolt in Beijing, the same place where the Jamaican was crowned king of the sprints seven years ago. He also produced two devastating runs of 19.67 and 19.57s over the 200 metres stating his intention to not only take Bolt’s 100-metre title but both.
It was a troubled Bolt who travelled to Germany to seek the help of Dr Hans Muller Wolfhart who determined that Bolt had a blocked joint in his pelvis that was the cause of inability to unleash his power. Three days later Bolt was back in training and training well. The times coming out of his camp suggested that he was back on track and would be ready to defend his titles in Beijing. Those developments however, were unknown to the public and the doubts lingered.
In fact, for the first time since 2008, the world was terribly worried that their hero would be toppled. The sport’s governing body didn’t want Bolt to lose. Newly elected IAAF President Lord Sebastian Coe publicly stated that he would have a difficulty with American Justin Gatlin winning the World title. Gatlin was the hot favourite but with two drug suspensions hanging over his head he was the last person the IAAF wanted to become the face of the sport. The brash American has the dubious distinction of having two drug suspensions and in the eyes of many should not even have been competing in the sport. Following his last suspension in 2006, the American was banned for eight years after testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone. However, the sentence was later reduced to four years.
The media, too, was not keen on seeing the tainted American become world champion and took shots at Gatlin every chance it got. So, Bolt had the weight of a nation, an organisation carrying on his shoulders coming into Beijing all while dealing with his own crisis of confidence because despite an encouraging performance in London in July with the championships more than a month away, Bolt would be going into the Beijing, well short of races. Yes, he was training well but the lack of races was a very real issue.
His performance in the rounds would have also been a cause for concern for the towering Jamaican. After an easy 9.97s to win his heat, Bolt almost never made it to the final after stumbling in his semi-final heat but managing to recover to win but only just in 9.96s. Meanwhile, Gatlin eased to a smart 9.77s in winning his heat easing down. It was his race to lose.
In the final Bolt trailed Gatlin until the last few strides but took the lead when the 2005 world champion feeling Bolt on his shoulder with five metres to go, lost his composure and began to overstride and then dip for the line. Bolt seized on the opportunity to snatch the win by a mere 0.01 seconds, his smallest margin of victory since he blew away a stellar field by more than two-tenths of a second back in 2008, which was the largest ever margin of victory in the 100 metres at a global championship.
Frazer-Pryce, on the other hand, had demonstrated all season long that the title was hers to lose.
A world-leading time of 10.74 to win in Paris in early July told her opponents that they would have to do something special to take her world title from Moscow in 2013. She also ran times of 10.79, 10.81 and 10.82 demonstrating her consistency throughout the season. Frazer-Pryce was so dominant that during the season to date, except for the mercurial American English Gardner who ran 10.79 at the US trials in June, no other woman had legally broken 10.8 seconds.
True to form, Frazer-Pryce delivered in another sub 10.8 time, 10.76 to claim her third world title and fifth global 100 metre title since 2008. Like Bolt, Frazer-Pryce has won two Olympic 100 metre titles and three world 100 metre titles since 2008 cementing their place as the greatest male and female 100 metre sprinters in history.
One more thing they have in common; they’re both from Jamaica.