Stuart Weir wrote this piece on the Women’s 100 meters, which was a stupendously dramatic race!
10 lonely seconds to justify one’s existence.
In the film, Chariots of Fire, which featured 2 athletes at the 1924 Paris, scriptwriter Colin Welland, had Harold Abrahams say in anticipation of the Olympic 100 meter final: “And now in one hour’s time, I will be out there again. I will raise my eyes and look down that corridor; 4 feet wide, with 10 lonely seconds to justify my existence”.
Sha’Carri Richardson reacts to winning 100m, Getty Images for World Athletics
On Monday evening in Budapest Sha’Carri Richardson took 10.65 seconds to justify her existence and become the world champion. The full result was
Marie-Josée TA LOU
But the drama started an hour and a quarter earlier than that, with three semi-finals. The first two in each race would qualify for the final, plus the two fastest athletes who did not come in the first two. (I’m so glad that we no longer call them the fastest losers!) Sha’Carri Richardson in 10.84 for 3rd place in her race was a clear qualifier, but Ewa Swoboda and Dina Asher-Smith each clocked 11.01. After a nervous wait, Dina Asher-Smith got the nod by one-thousandth of a second. Then common sense prevailed. Someone noticed that there were nine lanes, not eight, and Swoboda was added to the final lineup.
Sha’Carri Richardson wins 100m for US, first time since 2017, photo by Getty Images for World Athletics
Lanes are awarded on the basis of performance in the semi-finals, meaning that lanes four to seven (the middle lanes) contained Jackson, Ta Lou, Fraser-Pryce, and Alfred. As a time qualifier, Richardson was in lane 9, the outside lane – regarded as a disadvantage. Equally, I know of athletes who say that they prefer the outside lane because you just run your own race with no distractions. The four middle lanes battled it out, with the two Jamaicans, Jackson, and Fraser-Price, finishing in 10.72 and 10.77. I suspect that I was not the only one watching live in the stadium to miss Sha’Carri Richardson storming home in 10.65.
Beyond the obvious need for sprinting ability, fast twitch, and all that, there are huge mental challenges to be overcome. The women’s 1500 meters semi-finalists ran on Sunday and have three full days to prepare for Tuesday’s final. The sprinters had one hour. Richardson would undoubtedly have been disappointed to come third in the semi-final and needed to pick herself up and believe that she could beat two athletes who had beaten her an hour previously.
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Sha’Carri Richardson, Shericka Jackson, 100m medalists, photo by Getty Images for World Athletics
Richardson produced her season’s best in the race that mattered most. If you had known in advance that the winning time was going to be 10.65 – who would have been in the frame? Shericka Jackson had run 10.65 in the Jamaican championships last month. Marie-Josée Ta-Lou has won Diamond League 100-meter races this year in Florence, Oslo, Chorzow, Lausanne, and London (and I have been privileged to see four of those races). She has been dominant but never quicker than 10.75. She would have needed to find that extra 0.1.
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce ran seven races last year in the 10.60s, but this year had only run twice before Budapest due to injury – 10.82 and 10.83. Her season’s best 10.77 in the final was a great effort with so little running behind her, but she was never realistically going to run a 10.65 in Budapest.
A colleague said to me afterward it was as if there were three races simultaneously: those who could run 10.70 or under, the 10.80-90s, and the 11-second runners. Taking the semi-finals and final, we saw 19 athletes record an 11.something, six 10.9s, three 10.8s. four 10.7s but only one 10.6, and that is why Sha’Carri Richardson is World Champion.