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Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce - track superstar, role model and author

The 'Mommy Rocket' will bid for a third 100m gold in Tokyo, 13 years after her first. Read about the events that have shaped Jamaica's sprint queen, and her friendship with Allyson Felix.
By Rory Jiwani

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is one of the fastest female sprinters in athletics history, and a role model to women everywhere.

After failing to win a third consecutive Olympic 100m title at Rio 2016, the Jamaican took time out to have a baby.

She returned as strong as ever, winning her fourth 100m world title at Doha in 2019 and taking her World Championship gold tally to nine as part of her nation's victorious 4x100m relay team.

The 34-year-old has stayed in her homeland since the start of the pandemic, but made a strong seasonal debut in Kingston in March with victory over 200m.

Her clash with Rio champion Elaine Thompson-Herah and British star Dina Asher-Smith promises to be among the highlights of the Tokyo Olympic Games with Fraser-Pryce seeking to become the first woman to claim three Olympic 100m titles.

Read on to find out more about the 'Mommy Rocket'.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce with son Zyon after her 100m triumph at the 2019 IAAF World Championships in Doha
Kerron Stewart and Shelly-Ann Fraser celebrate Jamaica's 4x100m relay victory at the 2009 IAAF World Championships
Picture by 2009 Getty Images

1. Making history for Jamaica

Despite the country's rich sprinting pedigree, no Jamaican woman had won the Olympic 100m title before Beijing 2008 with the likes of Merlene Ottey, Juliet Cuthbert and Grace Jackson all just coming up short.

Veronica Campbell-Brown won the 2007 world title in Osaka, but finished only fourth in the national trials to miss out on her chance to win Olympic gold in the short sprint.

The 21-year-old Shelly-Ann Fraser, a reserve for the relay team in Osaka, took second place behind Kerron Stewart with Sherone Simpson edging out Campbell-Brown for the final berth.

In Beijing, all three Jamaicans made the final with Fraser and Stewart winning their semi-finals in facile fashion.

And Fraser was a class apart in the final, winning in a personal best of 10.78s with Simpson and Stewart crossing the line together in 10.98s to share the silver.

With Campbell-Brown successfully defending her 200m title, Jamaica were fully expected to retain their sprint relay crown from Athens 2004.

Their hopes were dashed as Simpson and Stewart botched their handover after Fraser's strong lead-off leg, but Beijing was the start of Jamaica's Olympic sprinting dominance with Usain Bolt securing the first of his three consecutive Olympic 100m and 200m doubles.

2. Punishment and redemption

Fraser showed her victory in Beijing was no fluke as she added the world title in Berlin in 2009 and helped Jamaica's women to their first 4x100m relay world crown since 1991.

But the following year, her career was derailed after she gave a positive drug test at the Shanghai Diamond League in May.

The sprinter had been given a painkiller by her coach Stephen Francis to treat toothache which contained the banned substance oxycodone.

While not performance-enhancing or considered to be a masking agent, she had failed to declare it on her doping-control form for the meeting.

Fraser was completely transparent about her mistake, but still received a six-month ban.

After marrying Jason Pryce and changing her name in January 2011, she told the BBC, "I'm a professional athlete - one who's supposed to set examples - so whatever it is I put in my body it's up to me to take responsibility for it and I have done that.

"What happened, happened. I can't take it back. I wish I could, but I can't." - Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce speaking to the BBC in May 2011

Fraser-Pryce failed to reach her previous heights on her return to action in 2011 and finished fourth in the 100m at the World Championships, although she did help Jamaica to sprint relay silver in Daegu.

2012 was a different story as she bounced back, edging out Carmelita Jeter to retain her Olympic 100m title in London, and running a personal best to take 200m silver behind Allyson Felix.

Jeter anchored the USA to 4x100m gold with Jamaica taking silver, but Fraser-Pryce had proved herself as the top female sprinter of her generation.

She confirmed this in 2013, winning the 100m, 200m and 4x100m treble at the World Championships in Moscow, and claiming the IAAF Athlete of the Year award.

3. Defying the doubters

After returning to Beijing to win her third world 100m in 2015, Fraser-Pryce suffered chronic inflammation in her big toe at the start of her preparation for Rio 2016.

As she struggled with injury, training partner Elaine Thompson was staking her claim for Olympic gold with a number of impressive performances.

At the Jamaican trials, Thompson equalled Fraser-Pryce's national record of 10.70s to take victory with her older rival running a season's best 10.93s in second place.

And it was Thompson who triumphed in Rio ahead of USA's Tori Bowie with Fraser-Pryce having to settle for bronze.

Far from being disappointed, she told Reuters afterwards, "I just wanted an opportunity to defend my title. And it was really, really hard. By far, I would definitely say this was my best championship ever.

"Because I knew how hard I worked, I knew the pain, I knew the sacrifice, I knew the tears, I knew everything. Despite everything I stuck to it, I toughed it out and I kept my head in the game, even when the odds were against me."

"I have accomplished so much, I am blessed and I think this is my greatest medal ever." - Fraser-Pryce talking to Reuters about her 100m bronze at Rio 2016

After helping Jamaica to silver behind the USA in the 4x100m relay, Fraser-Pryce briefly split with coach Francis but returned to his MVP camp later that year.

In March 2017, she announced on social media that she was pregnant with her first child and would not be defending her 100m world title in London.

She insisted, "I look forward to seeing you all in 2018 when I return to competition on the tracks and around the World."

Fraser-Pryce went into labour while watching Bowie win the 100m final and baby boy Zyon was born the next day by emergency C-section, an experience she later described as leaving her "really scared".

The 'Pocket Rocket' became the 'Mommy Rocket'.

Despite the pain and recovery from such a major operation, she was back in training 10 weeks later and made her track return in May 2018.

She broke the 11-second barrier just once that season, at the London Anniversary Games in the Olympic Stadium, as she was gradually regained her core strength in an athletics off-year.

In 2019, she proved the doubters wrong.

In the Jamaican trials for the Doha World Championships, she was second behind Thompson with both women clocking 10.73s.

That was Fraser-Pryce's fastest time in almost six years and just three-hundredths outside her lifetime best.

Coming to Doha, it was Thompson's turn to struggle with injury as an Achilles problem left her short of her peak.

And after tasting defeat in their five previous meetings, Fraser-Pryce finally defeated her friend and training partner as she scorched to a record fourth world 100m title in 10.71s ahead of Dina Asher Smith with Marie-Josee Ta Lou beating Thompson for bronze.

Photos of her celebrating with Zyon made headlines around the world as she bolstered her reputation as arguably the greatest female sprinter in history.

Speaking after that triumph, Fraser-Pryce admitted she had experienced doubts over whether she would recapture her top form saying, "Mentally it was even harder because you are 30, you are worried about coming back and not being really at the same level.

"For athletics and women it is hard to come back to sprinting. I remember in 2018 when I was getting back, I did not have enough power coming out of the blocks and over the first 30 metres.

"It stressed me out and took a lot of work to put it right."

"Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I knew how I felt and I was not ready to go. It is definitely one of those moments that I am very proud of."

4. From rivals to best buddies

Having been fierce rivals early in their career, Fraser-Pryce and Allyson Felix are now the best of friends thanks to their experiences of childbirth and motherhood.

Felix suffered for pre-eclampsia 32 weeks into her pregnancy in November 2018 with daughter Camryn born seven weeks prematurely by emergency C-section.

Both mother and daughter remained in hospital while their lives were in danger with Camryn spending a month in a neonatal intensive care unit before being allowed home.

Like Fraser-Pryce, the American refused to be put off by those who thought she would not return to elite competition after childbirth.

And in Doha, Felix won gold in the 4x400m mixed relay and women's relay to take her world title tally to 13, the most of any man or woman.

Speaking to AOL.com weeks after the event, Felix spoke of her relationship with Fraser-Pryce.

"It’s been interesting, because we’ve been competitors for so long. It’s just life that changes you at some point and both of us becoming mothers really brought us together. Whereas before, not that it wasn’t a friendly competition, but we wouldn’t really mix too much, but now we have something that brings us together, that we share in common and that gives us something to talk about.

"We’ve really been encouraging each other, and she’s been a great source of help along the way to bounce things off of and vice versa. It’s something that I never really imagined in a competitor, but it’s really cool.

"To be able to support other women, at least in my sport, I didn’t feel that when I first came in. I wanted to change that culture. Let’s celebrate one another, and let's encourage one another!" - Allyson Felix to AOL.com on fellow sprinting mother Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce

5. Children's author and role model

Fraser-Pryce grew up in Waterhouse, a deprived inner-city area of Jamaica's capital Kingston plagued by gang violence.

She recalls her childhood and upbringing in her autobiographical children's book entitled 'I Am A Promise' which she read for World Athletics at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"I was just a teeny tiny thing in this wild wonderous world. As tiny as I was, I was also very fast and I loved to run, so I ran to school, I ran to school, I ran to the shop, I ran like a rocket, I ran to be free, I ran everywhere because that was me." - extract from 'I Am A Promise'

The athlete has spent much of her career giving back to her community, setting up the Pocket Rocket Foundation to help disadvantaged children.

During the pandemic, her foundation has supplied computers and tablets to assist children who would otherwise have been unable to access school classes.

Back in February 2010, UNICEF Jamaica named her as a National Goodwill Ambassador calling her "one of the nation’s most accomplished female athletes and a passionate defender of children’s rights".

She continues to work with UNICEF Jamaica and has promoted breast feeding as well as its Learning At Home campaign.

Fraser-Pryce has a degree in Child and Adolescent Development and she has spoken of taking a Masters after retiring from athletics and continuing her philanthropic interests.

But first, there's the small matter of a fourth Olympic Games to negotiate where the 'Mommy Rocket' could make yet more history.