Saturday, July 31, 2021, Tokyo, Japan. At 7.50 a.m eight women lined up for the start of the 100m women’s final in the Tokyo Olympic stadium. Three Jamaicans, 2 Swiss, 1 American, 1 from the Ivory Coast, and 1 from Great Britain were successful in their rounds leading up to this moment. The moment was to decide the fastest woman in the world at the 32nd Olympiad. 10.61 seconds later, Elaine Thompson-Herah from Jamaica was the last woman standing. The wait was over, the world has a new champion.
To call this Olympics anything other than the strangest event in the world is not an exaggeration. The 2020 event was being held in July 2021. The biggest sporting event in the world is being hosted by the city of Tokyo under strict pandemic quarantine. The only spectators allowed in the event spaces were athletes and officials, and the 60, 000 seat stadium that hosts the athletic events has less than a thousand people at any given time. Japan had eagerly coveted the honor to host the event when it was announced in 2013, but 8 years later, one virus managed to change an entire nation’s hopes into fears. 80% of the 13 million people in Tokyo wanted out of the Olympics, but it was too late. Japan’s propensity for harmony had to be found in the staging of the games. It was no surprise that the nation rallied together as the world descended on their City, to be the gracious hosts they are known to be.
On July 23, 2021, Japan donned their kimonos and went into their famous ‘Konnichiwa’ (こんにちは) mode. The Olympics was on. The quest to go higher, faster, stronger began with a simple but beautiful opening ceremony, devoid of the usual overproduced spectaculars that accompany these over-budgeted events. Watching the ceremonies you could not help but admire the resilience of the Japanese people. The world was at their doorstep and so too was a virus; the IOC had a multi-billion noose around their necks and so too were major sponsors. Patrons who had bought tickets had their hands out for their refund because they decided to cancel all attendees. Japan was cornered but still, they rise. The Japanese exquisite, efficient machinery made the ‘silent Olympics’ seemed full of character and excitement in the massive sepulchers built to host the games. But the unusual thing about this vast event called the Olympics is that nothing gets going until the track and field stadium lights are turned on. On Saturday, July 31, the lights were on full blast.
Track and field is the highlight of the Olympics. No disrespect to the other athletes, the first week is seen as a warm-up for the theatrics of the Olympic theater in the main stadium. The first event was the finals of women’s 100m. In 1988 Seoul, Korea, the world watched the W 100m mark set at 10.62 by the American Flo Jo. The world also saw the WR lowered for the women’s 100 & 200 m – 10.49/ 21.34 respectively, by the same Flo Jo. Those times were etched into the history books and have stared many athletes in their faces as a daunting task to even think about breaking them. Records were made to be broken, but not these. For 33 years these times were like the knees on the neck of every athlete that worked hard to set new markers, until today.
Today, Jamaica rewrote the history books and showed the world it is possible to accomplish what seemed to be impossible. Elaine Thompson-Herah blazed the fast track in the Olympic stadium and scorched a sizzling 10.61 seconds over the distance to rewrite what most people considered a fake record. Flo Jo, the American whose name is accredited as the holder of the record, blasted 10.61 at the Seoul 1988 Olympics. She also set a new marker of 21.34 seconds over the 200 m in the same Olympics in Seoul. Whilst her accomplishments were admirable they were also questionable and here’s why. Flo Jo smashed the records of both the 100 m and 200 m like a drunken person handling eggs. She smashed the 200m twice in the same Olympics. She smashed the 100m record prior to arriving in Seoul, to 10.49 seconds. And then Flo Jo quit. She announced her ‘retirement ‘ in 1989 interestingly at the time when random out-of-competition drug testing was announced. The story of Flo Jo didn’t end there. Unfortunately, she died suddenly, from an epileptic seizure in her sleep, at the age of 38 in 1998.
These questionable markers have been a burden on the modern athlete, especially the females who train consistently under the threat of random drug tests. Flo Jo and Marita Koch from East Germany whose 400m world record of 47.60, set in 1985, did not face these tests and there is no reason not to believe that scientists were not busy baking cocktails for athletes in various sports to ‘help’ them along the way and gain glory for their country. Flo Jo and Koch both denied any ‘help’ for their hard work but, and there’s always a but, East Germany was revealed in 1985 to have been operating a state-sponsored doping program. Koch’s time was therefore questionable. Lance Armstrong, the famous American cyclist, had pulled the wool over the world’s eyes for years until he was caught for his use of steroids. He was disgraced, fell like humpty dumpty, and America hid their shame. A new Netflix documentary was produced to document his rise and fall in one of the biggest doping scandals of the 20th century.
It is by no mean measure ,therefore, to see Elaine’s victory as a game-changer. Under the claustrophobic veil of the AIU ( Athlete’s Integrity Unit) modern athletes can no longer post times that seem far-fetched from the generation it was accomplished. It took 33 years to erase Flo Jo’s Olympic record, and that knee was finally lifted and athletes can now breathe. Modern athletes are heavily tested and there is no reason to doubt super fast times. Usain Bolt, one of the most tested athletes in modern times, can attest to that. Bolt was reportedly tested every day at the 2008 Olympics when he set the world records in the M 100 and 200 m. Today, Thompson-Herah did her version of the ‘Bolt’ and flashed a hand while she crossed the finish line. The clock stopped at 10.61, a new Olympic record for women in the 100m. The impossible was done. We can all breathe. This run is finally cleaning the tainted history held by someone whose claim was only magnified by the flag beside her name. This run gave other athletes a reason to hope that the impossible can be accomplished. Today Jamaica continues to reign on top of the sprinting world and has set a new mark for sprinting excellence. For this, we are all proud of this little nation. The next target is the 10.49.marker. Be patient, it is coming. Our athletes got this.
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