Sports commentary and times in the World Athletics Championship

Elaine Thompson-Herah
Elaine Thompson-Herah (Photo credit: Elaine Thompson-Herah Twitter)

A couple of weeks ago, as track and field athletics fans engaged in online and one-on-one banter about their own expectations as the 18th World Athletics Championships approached, former 200-and 400-metre World and Olympic record holder Michael Johnson delivered a set of comments that still reverberate around the world.  Central to Johnson’s comments is his observation that Jamaican sprinting icons Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Elaine Thompson-Herah’s contributions to the sport is underappreciated, a position that in very few quarters drew any opposition.

Johnson, apart from being one of the most respected men in track and field, served for several years as a sports commentator with the BBC, where the depth and breadth of his knowledge in the sport is peerless, feels that instead of focusing on the world record, we should be focused more on these athletes and their ability to deliver when it counts at championships. Johnson pointed out that both women have contributed immensely to cementing Jamaica’s dominance in the sprints over the past 14 years. Fraser-Pryce was only the third woman in history to win back-to-back Olympic 100-metre titles along with four World Championship 100-metre titles. Thompson-Herah’s winning the double/double Olympic 100 and 200-metres medals and being the second fastest woman alive. What makes Johnson’s argument even more profound is the coverage of these athletes by the media at both the local and international levels.

While both athletes are openly celebrated at home in Jamaica, on the wider global stage, their coverage, international marketing pull, and, by extension, their individual net worth pales in comparison to that of athletes like Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith, or the USA’s Jenny Simpson, both of whom have far less achievements on the track than Fraser-Pryce or Thompson-Herah. A case in point is the kind of media attention given to up-and-coming athletes like Shacarri Richardson and Abby Steiner, neither of whom have any proven accomplishments to date beyond one or two fast times run at the Hayward Field.

In my opinion, it is up to us in Jamaica to ratchet up the way in which our media covers our star athletes, and at the same time, our athletes may want to pay more attention to the level of representation that they attach themselves to on the international stage. It has been said that throughout most of his career, Usain Bolt’s earnings, despite his immense talent, were suppressed because he may not have had the best representation. It could be that the same malady afflicts both Thompson-Herah’s and Fraser-Pryce’s careers.

In the final analysis, though it may be difficult to argue against Johnson’s point regarding recognition, performances are measured by times, even though times cannot be the sole measure of an athlete’s greatness. With that being said, I am sure that everyone in attendance at Oregon this week will still be looking to see if any of these Jamaican women will finally retire Flo-Jo’s long-standing times, and like most fans, especially us Jamaicans, will greet the event with much anticipation.

Much is expected of Jamaica’s female athletes in Oregon, particularly in the sprints where Jamaica’s dominance has been registered and reaffirmed over the last two decades. The combination of Thompson-Herah, Fraser-Pryce, Jackson, along with alternates Kemba Nelson and Brianna Williams is representative of the embarrassment of talent possessed by Jamaica. The times run by Jamaica’s top three makes for a couple of mouth-watering 100- and 200-metres finals over these championships.

For the record, the fastest 100-metre time this year was Fraser-Pryce’s 10.67 seconds set on 7 May 2022, in Nairobi, Kenya. Then at the National Senior Trials in Kingston, Jamaica on 24 June 2022,  Jackson ran a blistering 10.77 seconds to capture the Jamaican title, registering the second fastest time of the year.

In May of 2022, double Olympic 100 metres champion, Elaine Thompson-Herah, ran 10.79 seconds, the third fastest time this year at this same track in Eugene, Oregon, and the same track on which she scorched the second fastest 100 metres in history 10.54 seconds, in August 2021.

The 200 metres holds a similar intrigue for track fans. Jackson’s 21.55 seconds set at the Jamaica National Trials at the National Stadium in Kingston, on June 26, 2022, is the fastest time in the world this year. However, the double/double Olympic champion, Thompson-Herah’s 21.66 seconds, and Fraser-Pryce’s 22.14, set also at the National Championships, makes for a mouth-watering event and a clash with America’s female White Hope Abby Steiner who has run 21.77 seconds this year. We should keep in mind that Thompson-Herah owns the fastest time ever in this event at 21.53 seconds set at last year’s Tokyo Olympics. That time established her as the fastest woman alive over the distance and the second fastest ever, behind the late Florence Griffith-Joyner.

To our athletes representing us in Oregon over the next week, my very best wishes and the very best of luck.

Richard Hugh Blackford B.Sc., M.S (Ed).

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