Tokyo Olympics Updates
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It has been 33 years since Florence Griffith-Joyner set the current women’s 100m world record. A generation later, one of the largest fields of female sprinters ever has a shot at knocking it down.
The women’s 100 meters will be the race of the Tokyo Olympics, with two defending gold medalists and some of the fastest times ever run since FloJo’s blistering 10.49 performance in 1988.
In the first motos on Friday, sprinters set or equaled three national records, one African record and two personal bests.
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the 2008 and 2012 champion and the 2016 bronze medalist, is a favorite after running 10.63 in June in a race in her native Jamaica, the second fastest time in history.
Asked in Tokyo if she could do better, she said, “Absolutely.”
The reason for the sparkling times, several sprinters said, was the fierce competition.
“Everyone just comes to the occasion,” said American athlete Jenna Prandini. “When someone runs fast, everyone wants to be competitive and get to that level too. I think it’s just a concerted effort from all of us to compete with each other.”
Fraser-Pryce said there were too many talented women in the field to pick just one challenger: “There is rivalry with everyone.”
After three Olympics where the eyes of the world were on her compatriot Usain Bolt, she is delighted to see women in the spotlight. “It is far too late for women’s sprinting. I hope it certainly lives up to expectations.”
Bolt has said he is more excited about the women’s 100m in Tokyo than the men, telling the Guardian earlier this month that “the women’s final will definitely be more interesting”.
But there was a touch of tension at the Tokyo National Stadium on Friday when some of the top sprinters were asked about Sha’Carri Richardson’s absence. The American, who ran 10.72 this year to make her a strong contender for the gold, will not compete in Tokyo after she tested positive for marijuana.
“I’m not here to talk about Sha’Carri. I don’t know how that’s going to help us now,” said Blessing Okagbare of Nigeria.
Fraser-Pryce and defending champion Elaine Thompson-Herah said “no comment” and abruptly walked away from reporters.
Ivory Coast’s Marie-Josee Ta Lou, who led the first lap with an African record of 10.78, said she was “in shock” at the fast times set on the first day of competition in Tokyo.
“I really didn’t expect to run as fast as I just did. I’ve never walked here. I didn’t even train in the warm up room. So it’s my first time and I was like ‘wow!’”
There may be some technical variables contributing to this year’s speed. The introduction of carbon fiber track spikes since the last Olympics is widely recognized as helping runners achieve faster times over distances from the 100m to the marathon.
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The hot and humid Tokyo weather is also favored by sprinters, who say it prevents muscles from stiffening and allows for more fluid running dynamics. “It’s good to perform in the heat because there’s less pressure,” Fraser-Pryce said.
Fraser-Pryce also credits her achievements by taking a year off to give birth to a son between the Rio and Tokyo Olympics to “rejuvenate my motivation.”
Does the strongest lineup since FloJo add to the pressure? “Are you joking?” said Teahna Daniels, top American qualifier for Saturday’s final. “This is the most anticipated race, and to just be in it, just to participate, I’m enjoying every moment.”