This is Deji Ogeyingbo’s feature on Marie Jose Ta-Lou, who has had a remarkable 2023 season. Deji asks the big question, how will she fare in Budapest? 

Win or bust: Last chance saloon for Ta Lou to snag world championships Gold. 

 

Over the years, the women’s 100m has witnessed a constant dominance between the Americans and Jamaicans. It’s no surprise as the world’s giant and tiny island nations have produced the very best since the turn of this century. While the sport is a genuine passion for the Jamaicans, the utter need for complete control makes the Americans feel they belong at the top. And the results don’t lie.

Marie-Josée Ta Lou Wins the Women’s 100m with a time of 10.97 at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Rome/Florence, Italy on 2 June 2023, photo by Matthew Quine for Diamond League AG

The aftermath of this has resulted in outsiders from other countries who have sparingly spoilt the party for these two sprinting giants during the calendar year or at major championships like the Olympics and World championships. In fact, since the inception of the world championships in 1983, only eight nationalities have gotten on the podium in the women’s 100m. 

One of such country is Côte d’Ivoire. The West African country boasts three podium finishes, with Murielle Ahoure taking Silver in Moscow in 2013, Marie-Josée Ta Lou snagging Silver in London in 2017, and Bronze in Doha in 2019. Ta Lou is where most of our attention lies as the Ivorian has been relentless in her pursuit of the ever-elusive Gold, and this year’s world championships in Budapest offer her the perfect opportunity to add it to her collection.

Marie Jose Ta-Lou wins Lausanne 100m in 10.88, photo by Matthew Quine/ Diamond League AG

It might feel like an obsession, but she has worked hard. Ta Lou wasn’t the most precocious of an athlete in her early years, and her route to the top has been filled with many ups and downs with doses of near misses on the global stage. When she first burst onto the scene at the Rio Olympics, the Ivorian missed out on medals in the 100m and 200m by a hair’s breadth. 

Ta Lou didn’t relent and has since been in the mix, slugging it out with the Jamaicans and Americans when it matters most. But deep down, she will always crave more. Becoming a world champion is all that matters, and if there has been any year where the chance of that happening is high, then it’s 2023. At 34, our chances are getting limited by the day, and Budapest offers her the right opportunity to snag Gold. 

Marie-Josee TaLou, photo courtesy of Nike Communications

But as always, there will always be obstacles in the way. Shericka Jackson, Sha’Carri Richardson, and defending Champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce are leading the front. These are established names and, like Ta Lou, will most likely be on the podium come to Budapest. Then there is the genuine talent of Julien Alfred of Saint Lucia, the double NCAA Champion who has beaten Richardson this year while also clocking a new Personal Best of 10.83s. 

Jackson currently holds the world lead with the 10.65s she ran at the Jamaican trials in June and with Olympic Champion not making the team for the Island nation. Ta Lou’s chances went a notch higher. In fact, her two matchups with Jackson this year saw her emerge victorious at the Oslo and London Diamond League. 

Marie-Jose Ta Lou, Tori Bowie, Dafne Schippers, 100 meters, London 2017, from World Athletics

Her only potential duel with Richardson was billed to have taken place in the final of the Los Angeles Grand Prix in May few hours after she ran a scorching 10.88s to win her heat with relative ease. In London, the American pulled out at the last minute after she was treated for a sore hamstring during warm-up. Ta Lou won the race in 10.75s, equaling her season’s Best. 

“My ultimate goal is to get into the world championships in Budapest in great shape. I want to win that Gold and know what will take me. A 10.6s low or something along the line will just do it for me.” Ta Lou said after she won the 100m at the London Diamond League. 

Marie Jose Ta-Lou, photo by photo by Thomas Windestam for Diamond League AG

Some of the motivation for Ta Lou, asides from her longtime dream of changing how the sport is seen in Africa, is becoming the first African Gold medalist in the 100m at either the Olympics or World Championships.  Apart from Ta Lou, notable achievements by female African sprinters include Mary Onyali’s bronze medal at the Atlanta 1992 Olympics and Tobi Amusan’s gold in the 100m hurdles at the 2022 World Championships in Oregon for Nigeria. 

Asides from Ta Lou’s first loss of the season, where she was practically still getting into her groove, the Ivorian has chalked up 10 consecutive wins in the 100m between April and July. Will her rivals be scared? Maybe. Maybe not. We really can’t tell. The defending champion Fraser-Pryce has a knack for showing up when it matters most. But at 36, injuries and age will play a part in how she turns up on the line. 

Marie-Josee TaLou, photo by BBC Africa

“I want to be the greatest sprinter in Africa. I want to leave a big legacy. Not only for Ivorian girls but for all African girls. I want to show that they can do something big if they believe in themselves.” Ta Lou said after her Diamond League win in Oslo. One thing is certain, though, if she becomes the World Champion in less than a month from now, she will cement her legacy as the greatest sprinter to come from the African Continent. 

 

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