Former Olympic champion Michael Johnson, who won two gold medals at the 1996 Atlanta Games, believes that Jamaican sprinting icons Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Elaine Thompson-Herah are underappreciated.
In an interview with Athletics Weekly, the former 200m and 400m world record holder offered an interesting new lens to look at the sport, saying we should focus on head-to-head duels rather than fixating on times.
Johnson said that nowadays, track and field is too focused on the times and not focused enough on the rivalry and the storytelling behind the scenes as well, and the women’s 100m rivalry between Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Elaine Thompson-Herah is a perfect opportunity to showcase that.
“Yeah, I mean I would say that it’s a perfect example of the problem because I don’t think that Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce or Elaine Thompson-Herah get enough credit for what they’ve done in the sport because we’re so focused on times,” said Johnson.
“So, you know right now I can see that you know what’s going to happen most likely with Elaine is, there’s going to continue for the remained of her career unless she breaks the World record in the 100m, a focus now on whether she breaks the world record or not and if she doesn’t, you know there’s a danger that people will be disappointed,” he said.
The 29-year-old Thompson-Herah is a five-time Olympic champion and the 100m and 200m title holder from both Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020.
At 35, Fraser-Pryce has three Olympic gold medals – eight medals in total – including the gold-standard 100m crown won at both Beijing 2008 and London 2012. She is also a nine-time world champion and the reigning world gold medallist at 100m.
“I mean, then the fact that you have at the same time these two women from this very small island, who go head-to-head you know at these championships and they, between the two of them, they’ve won the gold medals in the 100m over the last four Olympic Games,” said Johnson.
The current 100m world record has stood since 1988, Florence Griffith-Joyner, also known as Flo-Jo, became the only woman ever to break the 10.5-second barrier with a run of 10.49 at the US Olympic trials in 1988. Since then, many have deemed the mark impossible to beat – not least because of controversy regarding possible wind assistance at those trials.
Johnson feels instead of focusing on the world record, we should be focused more on these athletes and their ability to deliver when it counts at championships.
“You know that’s incredible and I think that should be celebrated. And if I think if we were focused more on these athletes and their ability to deliver when it counts at championships and win the head-to-head battle as opposed to well this time and what was the wind and you know is it a national record and how close is it to the world record and all of those things, I think we are robbing ourselves and the sport of its greatness,” he said.