Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Fred Kerley (© Getty Images)
At the age of 36, with six World Championships behind her and 10 gold medals in her collection, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is preparing to venture into unknown territory at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23.
“It’s a new situation for me to come back from injury and start my season so late,” the Jamaican sprint phenomenon confessed after contesting her first 100m race of the year, in Lucerne on 20 July.
Having won in Switzerland in 10.82 and in Madrid in 10.83 two days later, Fraser-Pryce heads to the Hungarian capital with an unbeaten record at 100m in 2023. Her only other races since overcoming a knee problem have been a 200m heat and final at the Jamaican Championships, where she finished second to Shericka Jackson, the world champion at the distance, in 22.26 – plus, of course, that celebrated victory in the mother’s race at her son’s school sports day.
Three women have gone faster: Jackson, with her scorching 10.65 at the Jamaican Championships, Sha’Carri Richardson with 10.71 in the heats at the US Championships and the bang in-form Ivorian Marie-Josee Ta Lou with 10.75 at the Bislett Games.
The Jamaican Supermom – who will be concentrating on the 100m, having withdrawn from the 200m – will need to close the gap on her rivals if she is to win the title for a sixth time and equal Sergey Bubka’s record haul of individual golds in one event.
In 14 years, Fraser-Pryce has only once failed to cross the line first in a World Championships 100m final, finishing fourth in Daegu in 2011.
In Oregon 12 months ago, she won in a championship record 10.67 – one of her record seven sub-10.70 performances in 2022 – with Jackson second in 10.73. This time Jackson has the super-fast time going into the championships, plus two 10.78 performances, but her only 100m wins have been on home ground in Jamaica. On the Diamond League circuit, the two-time world 400m bronze medallist has finished runner-up to Richardson in Doha and Silesia and third in Oslo and London.
In terms of head-to-heads, Fraser-Pryce boasts an 8-1 record against her compatriot and training partner and a 21-4 advantage over Ta Lou, but is tied at 3-3 with Richardson, her three successes against the US sprinter having come in their last three meetings.
Marie-Josee Ta Lou in Oregon (© Getty Images)
At 34, Ta Lou is in the form of her life. A close second to the late Tori Bowie in London in 2017, losing the gold by 0.01, and third behind Fraser-Pryce and Dina Asher-Smith in Doha in 2019, the 5ft 3in African Pocket Rocket has blasted to 10 victories in 10 100m races in 2023, including Diamond League successes in Florence, Oslo, Lausanne and London, and looks a serious contender for a first global gold.
“I’m really going for the gold and I believe that I can do it,” Ta Lou said. “I know my finish is strong, but my start could be better. I need to improve it to make sure I can achieve my goal of winning gold.”
The 22-year-old Richardson, who will be making her major championship debut as a senior, has won eight of nine races at 100m this year, including Diamond League victories in Doha and Silesia. She has reached an impressive level of consistency, registering four of the fastest seven times in 2023, all 10.76 or quicker.
Her one defeat came in the Istvan Gyulai Memorial in Szekesfehervar on 18 July, when she clocked 10.97 as runner-up to the new kid on the blocks, Julien Alfred from St Lucia. The 22-year-old Commonwealth silver medallist prevailed in 10.89, stretching her unbeaten record to 10 wins.
Fifth fastest in the world at 100m with 10.83, Alfred has also clocked the third fastest 200m (21.91), suggesting she has the speed endurance to feature at the end of a close contest.
Brittany Brown and Tamari Davis, second and third behind Richardson at the US Championships, both have the potential to make the final and mount a challenge, while 2012 world U20 champion Anthonique Strachan of The Bahamas clocked 10.92 as runner up to Ta Lou in Oslo in June.
The European challenge will be led by Asher-Smith, who clocked an encouraging 10.85 as runner-up to Ta Lou in the London Diamond League, and Poland’s 2019 European indoor 60m champion Ewa Swoboda, who broke 11 seconds for the first time with 10.94 for third place in Silesia.
Not since Paris in 2003 has the men’s 100m title been claimed by a sprinter from outside the US or Jamaica. Could 2023 in Budapest be the time and place for someone to follow in the footsteps of Kim Collins by bringing an end to the 20-year-old duopoly?
The event appears to be as open as it was in the French capital two decades ago, when Collins put St Kitts and Nevis on the global track and field map. No-one stands out as a clear favourite, though Fred Kerley perhaps ought to be considered the main contender.
The 6ft 3in Texan is the reigning champion, having led a US medal sweep on home soil in Oregon last year ahead of Marvin Bracy-Williams and Trayvon Bromell. US sprinters have won the last three golds and Kerley will lead the starred and striped challenge in Budapest, supported this time by Cravont Charleston, the 2019 world champion Christian Coleman and two-time world 200m champion Noah Lyles, a potential ‘surprise’ packet.
Kerley has contested just five 100m races this season, two of them in the Seiko Golden Grand Prix in Yokohama in May, where he clocked a season’s best of 9.88. He registered comfortable victories on the Diamond League circuit in Rabat and Florence, both in 9.94, but was edged out in a tight finish in Silesia on 16 July, South Africa’s Akani Simbine taking the win in 9.97 with Kerley and Cameroon’s Emmanuel Eseme clocking 9.98 in second and third, and the newly-crowned US champion Charleston fourth in 9.99.
Earlier in the season, Kerley and Olympic 100m champion Marcell Jacobs were engaged in some heated exchanges on social media. They were scheduled to clash in some of the early season races on the international circuit, but none materialised. Jacobs' only outdoor race this season was a 10.21 seventh-place finish in Paris and he withdrew from other scheduled appearances. Kerley also pulled out of some races mid-season.
Ahead of Kerley on the 2023 world list stand two potential challengers in Britain’s Zharnel Hughes (9.83) and Kenya’s Ferdinand Omanyala (9.84).
When Hughes, a qualified pilot, flew to his 9.83 clocking in New York on 24 June, he sliced 0.04 off the ancient national record held by the only British sprinter to have claimed the world 100m title, Linford Christie, who triumphed in Stuttgart 30 years ago. Should he strike gold in Budapest, the native Anguillan would make it five wins in the event for his Jamaican coach, Glen Mills, the sprint guru who guided Usain Bolt to victory in 2009, 2013 and 2015, and also Yohan Blake in 2011.
“Obviously people are going to target the time I’ve run,” said Hughes, who won the European 200m title last year, “but I don’t put pressure on myself. That’s when things can go topsy turvy.”
Zharnel Hughes at the World Athletics Championships (© Getty Images)
Hughes, who false started in the Olympic final two years ago, has no other official sub-10 to his name in 2023, although he won the British title in 10.03 in monsoon conditions and smashed John Regis’ 30-year-old national 200m record with 19.73 for third place behind Lyles (19.47) and Botswana’s Letsile Tebogo (19.50) in the London Diamond League meeting on 23 July.
Omanyala is the only man who has dipped under 9.90 twice this year, the Commonwealth champion backing up his 9.84 from the Kip Keino Classic in May with 9.85 in the Kenyan trials on 8 July. The former rugby player has yet to make a global 100m final but has been a consistent performer on the Diamond League stage, placing third in Rabat, second in Florence and Paris and first in Monaco, and is not lacking in confidence.
Simbine’s victory ahead of Kerley in Silesia will have raised his hopes of finally making a global podium – and winning the race to become Africa’s first medal winner in the event. The 29-year-old South African has long been the ‘nearly’ man of the 100m: fifth in London in 2017, fourth in Doha in 2019 and fifth in Oregon last year, as well as fourth and fifth in the last two Olympic finals. With four successive wins behind him (in Kladno, Ostrava, Stockholm and Silesia), he heads to Hungary with serious momentum.
The African challenge promises to be fierce. Like Simbine and Omanyala, Eseme and Tebogo have also notched top three finishes on the Diamond League circuit, while Simbine’s South African teammate Shaun Maswanganyi has a 9.91 clocking to his name.
A place on the podium might not be beyond the scope of all four US sprinters – including Lyles, who beat Omanyala and Tebogo to win the 100m at the Paris Diamond League and was recovering from Covid when he took third place in the US Championships. He boasts a PB of 9.86.
A new kid on the senior international block, the 20-year-old Bahamian Terrence Jones who won the NCAA indoor 60m title in March, has run 9.91.
The Jamaican challenge will be led by Oblique Seville, who finished fourth in Oregon last year, and the emerging Rohan Watson, who started the year with a best of 10.41 but won the Jamaican title in 9.91. Ackeem Blake stands fourth on the world list with 9.89 but, having placed fourth in the trials, is on the entry list as a reserve.
Simon Turnbull for World Athletics