Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce has always had the willpower to face challenges.
She returned to the athletics track last October after a two-year break to start a family winning her fourth individual world title at Doha 2019 after a dominating 100m run.
That sprint summed up how she always wants to be remembered, “powerful and resilient”.
Six Olympic and 11 world medals later, the Jamaican star is now working on finding focus as she looks to sign off on a high after a two-decade-long career. The biggest goal for Fraser-Pryce, as she prepares for her fourth Games in Tokyo, will not just be her third Olympic gold, but to be among the top three fastest women in history.
“I've been blessed to be able to have the medals and the Championships that I have won. But there is still breaking the 10.70 seconds barrier [in the 100m]. It has been a big challenge for me. And that's the goal for next year,” she said in an exclusive interview to the Olympic Channel.
“I want to be remembered as being fearless, resilient, and dominant.” - Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce to Olympic Channel
Fraser-Pryce has newfound motivation. Her son, Zyon.
But even more importantly, she has always had a drive that made her a source of inspiration for many women in sport.
“It's about outdoing you, outdoing the work you did yesterday, or outdoing the goals you had last year. Being fearless, showing up and going out to get it done.”
Nobody could claim that the Jamaican is anything other than fearless on the track, in pursuit of her goals.
But even as she soars to new levels in the sport, she wants to have her feet firmly planted in pursuit of greatness.
The 33-year-old suffers from an “extreme” phobia of heights.
Embracing fears, failures, and success
With several track and field events cancelled or postponed due to coronavirus, Fraser-Pryce used the break to try and overcome that fear.
She headed up to Ocho Rios, on the North coast of Jamaica, for some adventures in the rainforest.
She even tried to scale the spider web themed rope course.
“I am terrified of heights. I am adventurous, I like hiking but I don’t do heights. When I started running and had to do the long travels to Europe I would sit next to a teammate because the minute the plane moved, “I would grab and press their hand so tight.”
But that’s how the nine-times world champion likes to take on life.
Failure and success always go hand-in-hand.
After successfully defending her 100m title at the 2015 World Athletics Championships in Beijing she was the favourite going into Rio 2016. She finished third behind her teammate Elaine Thompson-Herah and American Tori Bowie, missing out on becoming the first female sprinter to win 100m at three Olympics in a row.
“What happened in Rio was special to me. I need to embrace it. I knew what I had to sacrifice to get here. I knew the pain that I had to endure to stand on that podium. I want to remember [Rio] because I want to be reminded of the strength, the resilience, and the determination that it took for me to stand on that podium, “she told the Olympic Channel from Kingston, where she has been stuck since her last indoor race in Scotland before the disruptions.
“I was chasing that third Olympic gold medal, and I was just horrified at the fact that I had a toe injury and I didn't know how to cope at the time. It hit me hard mentally. I would go home, cry because I was unable to train. Sometimes I couldn't walk because my toe was swollen.
“There were days I couldn't put my foot in my shoes. I couldn't wear spikes. I couldn't do anything. I visited the doctor many times. I did a lot of treatments. I got injections. I had so many things done to get that toe to heal. And it just never happened. And I was still able to say, ‘you know what? I'm showing up and I will do what I can do. And whatever happens, happens!',” she recalled of the period leading up to her races at the João Havelange Olympic Stadium in the Brazilian capital.
The greatest win
Fraser-Pryce took time out to recover fully and skipped the 2017 Worlds, the first time she missed the championships since her debut in Osaka 2007.
During the break, she also gave birth to her first child, Zyon, a day after the women’s 100m final in London at those 2017 World Championships.
She defied expectations of retirement and returned to competition barely a year later.
At the 2019 Jamaican championships, Fraser-Pryce showed glimpses of her usual explosive start off the blocks and speed with a super-fast tied world lead of 10.73 seconds with Thompson-Herah.
But she saved her best moment for the 2019 Worlds.
“My greatest win is coming back after having my son and winning at the World Championship. I was able to get back to the track, coming from a different angle. It's almost like I had something to prove and it was hard work,” she said of her victory, aged 32, that made her the oldest sprinter to win the 100m gold at the World Championships.
"Because a lot of times in my life, I have always been told what I can do and what I can’t do and what is attainable for me. And here I was putting everything to the test understanding that we are not limited, we are so much more, we are powerful, we are strong." - Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce to Olympic Channel
Being a mum added a spring to her short quick strides. The nickname pocket-rocket has now morphed to mommy-rocket.
“Motherhood does not stop us from achieving our goals. If anything, it adds value to who we are,” she said.
“And knowing that we can create a human being and come back and be able to get the ball rolling and still be a tough mum was just awesome.”
That controlling victory in Doha confirmed Fraser-Pryce as the woman to beat in Japan, despite the pandemic restricting her outdoor racing this year to her hometown in Kingston.
“Our National stadium was closed down so we had to go back on a dirt track to get out workouts in. We were in the hot sun by 9 am which is so unusual for us, then headed to the gym so that we are back home before the curfew,” she said of her training for what could have been her final run of the season. Fraser-Pryce dashed to a then world-leading 10.86 on August 22.
“I was able to put together a solid run. It was rusty but that’s usual with the first race, but I was able to get a decent time and something tangible to look at on the screen and to be able to assess and say this is where we move on from here.”
Fraser-Pryce has also had time to reset her goals for the next three years. She had planned to retire after the World Championships in Eugene. The event was originally scheduled for 2021 but has since been postponed by a year.
“I have had plans and these things written down and then I have to wait another year. Another year will make me 34 and another year would be like, ‘Oh girl, you have to put in some more work’,” she said about her sprinting career that began as a young girl running barefoot in primary school.
So we have to get through 2021 before we can even start thinking about 2022 but I would be honoured to be able to go for the World Championships in 2022 .
The double London 2012 medallist also wants to stand out in Tokyo, all round.
“I'm looking at, and I'm excited about Tokyo…For my hair… I'm always looking for the brightest colour. And sometimes I get [ideas] from the country that I'm in. [Japan’s flag] is white and red. I may just go all white.”
Fraser-Pryce, who currently sits joint fourth in the all-time 100m list with Thompson-Herah at 10.65, wants to close the gap on world record holder Florence Griffith-Joyner.
The triple Olympic champion's world records, set in 1988 for both the 100m [10:49] and 200m [20:34], still stand.
“It’s weird because I still have this thing that I'm still chasing. 10.6, that’s the goal I am going into next. I have come so close. It's almost like I can go… [dipping forward] and touch it,” she confessed.
“That too has added to the drive and desire. Maybe if I had gotten that 10.6 before having my son, who knows? I would have felt internally satisfied.”
“Embrace our strengths”
She still has big plans for her sprints that jump-started when she made her debut for Jamaica at the 2002 Central American and Caribbean Junior Championships as part of the 4x100m relay team.
But her races now are deliberate, more like she wants to remember her sporting journey and why she is still racing.
“I've been a statistic my whole life, you know. I'm from an inner-city in Kingston where lots of people don’t usually make it, but I made it. So that means I have something special,” she reflected on her humble beginnings in the violent and impoverished Waterhouse neighbourhood of her nation's capital.
"I just want to be remembered as being fearless, resilient and dominant. I think that's a term a lot of women shy away from because nobody wants to hear that as a woman, you're dominant." - Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.
“We should embrace our strengths. There's nothing wrong with being strong, being powerful, and fearless. I want to be remembered as fearless and persevering, despite my strength.”
The sprinter, a graduate in Child and Adolescent Development, is already changing lives through the Pocket Rocket Foundation that aims to transform lives using sport and education.
Her love of running was inspired by her mum, a former athlete, and Fraser-Pryce has great advice for others following in her footsteps.
“It's always been about you and I've always said, shine on, regardless of our circumstances, regardless of how challenging life gets. And no matter what level you get to, you can always supersede that level.
“It's about outdoing you, outdoing the work you did yesterday or outdoing the goals you had last year. Saying, ‘I'm going to be fearless and I'm going to show up and I'm just going to get it done.”
It is all about legacy now and touching lives.
Fraser-Pryce has won more global 100m titles than any other female sprinter in history and is considered one of the greatest of her generation.
“I never even knew I would be here. I'm humbled at the association and also excited for the next generation of young athletes, young female athletes. Everything that I’ve overcome to be here and to be mentioned in a conversation as being one of the greatest in the world is amazing.
“What makes it even more special is because there are so many young girls that look up to me. So many young girls that are coming from poor situations, or have self-esteem issues, or any other problems. At the end of the day, we can overcome it, “she concluded.