Elaine Thompson-Herah: "Nothing is wrong with failing"

The Olympic sprint double champion shares how she bounced back from injuries and disappointment on the track to dominate at Tokyo 2020.

By Evelyn Watta

Despite her remarkable achievements on the track, five-time Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah knows the pain of failure.

After a glorious treble at Rio 2016, winning the sprint double and silver in the 4x100m relay, the Jamaican star was the favourite for the world titles at London 2017 and Doha 2019.

But all her World Athletics Championship sprints ended in disappointment.

“For the past five years, I have been hurdling my obstacles until I could get back on the track and then claim all these titles last year,” she told Jamaica's Gleaner.

“Nothing is wrong with failing or starting over.

She managed to bounce back in spectacular fashion at Tokyo 2020 last year, repeating her individual sprint double from Rio and winning her first relay Olympic gold.

Thompson-Herah on fighting her way to the top

Thompson-Herah struggled with an Achilles tendon injury for nearly five years.

The long-striding sprinter could only manage fifth in the 100m at the 2017 World Championships that she described as “the biggest disappointment in her career".

The following season also yielded sub-par performances, but 2019 saw her win the Jamaican nationals in her best time for two years.

She then took the Pan American Games title in Lima before arriving for the Doha World Championships as the favourite.

But again she failed to deliver, placing fourth in the 100m as Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce claimed her fifth world title.

Thompson-Herah was then forced to pull out of the 200m semi-finals and the 4x100m relay team in Qatar.

“Disappointments do come, but I have to continue to work hard because no athlete goes into a championship to lose. I didn't go to a championship to lose. It was beyond my control," she said in an interview with Olympics.com before the Tokyo Games.

"Every athlete has their obstacles that they are facing. I've been facing lots of obstacles for the past three years and it's been a battle between myself and injury.”

Her determination carried her through at Tokyo.

The 29-year-old won the 100m crown in emphatic fashion and even had time to point in celebration as she crossed the finish line in 10.61, the second-fastest women's 100m in history.

She carried that dominance through to the 200m, comfortably pulling away from the rest of the field in 21.53 with, again, only Florence Griffith-Joyner running faster.

That saw her become the first woman to retain both sprint titles at the Olympics.

And she completed a famous treble as Team Jamaica bettered their silver Rio in the women’s 4x100m relay.

Huge performances but the painful journey to Olympic glory stays with her.

Speaking in early March, the 2021 World Athlete of the Year said, "Keep believing and keep working. If it takes you five or seven years to achieve your goals (that’s OK); nothing is wrong with failing or starting over.

"For the past five years, I have been hurdling my obstacles until I could get back on the track and then claim all these titles last year.

“When things are not working for me the way I want them to, I write affirmations on what I want to achieve and believe that it will happen.”- Elaine Thompson-Herah to Jamaica Gleaner.

Paris 2024 will be her third Olympics.

She will hope to follow Usain Bolt’s 'triple-double', winning both sprints at three consecutive Games.

The eight-time Olympic champion is one of her greatest icons and his earlier struggles inspire her.

"If you look back at when Usain started out, he didn't win [at] his first (Olympics). You have to be defeated to be a good champion, and this will motivate me to be a good champion, a better opponent, and a good sportswoman,” she said soon after her disappointing 2017 World Championships.

Thompson-Herah is one of the Olympic stars expected to challenge for medals at the World Athletics Indoor Championships at the Stark Arena in Belgrade starting on Friday (18 March).

She clocked 7.08 seconds in her indoor 60m seasonal debut in Birmingham in mid-February 19, but then went down to Ewa Swoboda in Torun three days later.

The Pole has since broken seven seconds and is the favourite for gold in the Serbian capital.


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