Elaine Thompson, successor to the throne
Sunday, August 28, 2016
This former resident of Banana Ground in Manchester was an average runner for the first part of her athletic career. Born 26th June 1992, she first came to notice at the Christiana High School.
She later transitioned to Manchester High School, which was better known for its track programme and where she felt she could emerge as a better than average athlete. Indeed, Elaine’s start on this athletic venture was inauspicious. She was not a bad athlete, but did not set the track alight with her times. Her talents must have been seen, however, as Jamaica has some of the finest talent scouts around.
Running for Manchester in the 2009 Boys’ and Girls’ Champs, she placed a modest fifth in class two with a time of 12.01 secs. Nothing really to write home about in an environment where serious times were being run at the school level.
In 2011, her last year in high school, she did not make the track team. How then did this young lady from the remote district of Banana Ground make this transition where she has pocketed two gold medals and one silver in the biggest sporting event in the world?
This is indeed a rapid transition from the less-than-average performances four years ago to the top of the world.
Jamaica is reputed to have some of the best coaches in the world, and it took the eagle eye of the Francis brothers at the MVP, the home of sprint champions as they call themselves, to place their money on this athlete. They must have seen something that no one else did.
By 2013, Thompson had improved her time to an unremarkable 11.41 secs for the 100m, but the writing must have been on the wall for the Francis brothers. Stephen, much criticised for his outspoken nature and his controversial personality, placed considerable emphasis on this young talent and the results began to show. In that year, Thompson was a member of the sprint relay team that won the gold medal in the Central American and Caribbean Championships, but no one was as yet convinced that she had star quality. That was 2013, folks, just three years ago.
In 2014, she significantly improved her 100m time to 11.26 secs at the Intercollegiate Champs, a performance that must have convinced her and her backers she could make the grade. She ended the season with a career best 11.17 secs. That again was just two years ago. Countdown. Those are not earth-shattering times, but when you can improve from 12.01 secs to 11.17 secs in the space of four years, that is evidence of significant potential.
Thompson’s breakout year was 2015. I had vaguely heard of this lady, but had not seen her run until she competed at an Intercollegiate meet.
The 100m started and no one was seriously interested until they saw a marvel – a smooth demolition of the field in the amazing time of 10.92 secs, the fastest time in the world at that time. Everyone sat up to look at the replay. Elaine who? Never heard of her, was what many said then. But you have to sit up and take note of a 10.92-second timing, and more than that, it was the manner in which she did it – sheer class.
She went on to top a very competitive and experienced field at the Jamaica International, leaving behind none other than Allyson Felix and Blessing Okagbare in her wake. Time: 10.97 secs. This was not a flash in the pan. Elaine Thompson was the real deal.
She followed this up with a 10.84-second timing in the Eugene Classic. Elaine Thompson from Banana Ground in Manchester had arrived.
Four other races confirmed her as one of the greats, but these were not in the 100m which people had become accustomed to seeing her contest. Thompson ran four 200m in 2015 and clocked 22.37 secs, 22.31 secs, 22.10 secs (see the progression again) and eventually 21.66 secs, yes, repeat 21.66 secs, running second to a strong-finishing Dafne Schippers in a massive race for the World Championships – gold.
So who engineered this change as it seemed at the time? Stephen Francis weathered the storm of criticism for running her in the 200m and proved to the world or those who doubted him that he surely knows what he is doing. Very few female athletes have run faster than this.
On to Rio.
The toe injury to legend Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce served to elevate Elaine to the pole position in both the 100m and 200m for which she was entered for the Rio Olympics. Before that she demonstrated she was genuine by her performance at the National Trials in June. In Rio, Thompson was installed as the favourite for the 100m, but it was the general consensus that she would be edged out by the apparently stronger Schippers in the 200m.
After a scintillating run in the 100m final in which she just about demolished the field including Schippers, who must have been demoralised in finishing fifth, she went on to run the race of her life in the 200m, a defining 21.78 secs to win the gold and relegate favourite Schippers to second.
Usain Bolt has been an inspiration to the Jamaica team ever since Beijing. The 100m normally runs off early, and it is no coincidence that the medals keep on coming after that.
The significance of this fantastic start to our Olympic campaigns since then is not lost on the athletes. The team needs this kind of early spurt. So with no more Bolt, a new catalyst has to emerge. What better person than Elaine?
In four years’ time, Elaine at 28 should be at the peak of her career, and while Shelley-Ann has been the beacon on the female side and there is still much left in that tank to help inspire her fellow athletes, projections have to be made on the basis of recent consistent data. There is no question that while I expect Shelly to bounce back with a vengeance, it is to Elaine that I feel we must look as the new inspiration for the team.
Her persona suggests that she has the mettle to wear this mantle well and to keep Jamaica’s flag flying high.
Over to you, Queen Elaine.
Don Anderson, CD served as a vice-president of the Jamaica Olympic Association for 32 years, was a part of the management team to seven Olympic Games from 1988, and was the Chef de Mission to the Jamaica Olympic Team for five of these Games from Atlanta in 1996 to London in 2012.