When you consider how strong Jamaica has been in the short sprints in the 21st century, it’s hard to remember that, prior to 2008, no Jamaican had ever won an Olympic 100-meter gold medal. Things weren’t much different in the 200 meters, as only Don Quarrie (1976) and Veronica Campbell-Brown (2004) had struck gold for Jamaica. Everything changed in 2008, as Usain Bolt won the 100-200 double in Beijing and Campbell-Brown won the women’s 200. The unlikely fourth runner who helped Jamaica sweep the short sprints at the 2008 Olympics was a 5-foot, 21-year-old named Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.
Shelly-Ann Fraser – she became Fraser-Pryce after getting married in 2011 – grew up in Waterhouse, an impoverished section of the Kingston area in Jamaica. Her mother, Maxine Simpson, had been a sprinter and long jumper. Fraser-Pryce later told the Jamaica Observer
that she first “dabbled” in track and field while attending elementary school. She ran barefoot while earning her first major success, a second-place finish in a school championship meet, at age 10.
Fraser-Pryce eventually stopped dabbling and became a more serious runner in high school. She gained her first international medal at the Carifta Games – a meeting of Caribbean athletes – in 2005, where she placed third in the 100 meters.
In 2007, at age 20, Fraser-Pryce got her first taste of international championship competition as an alternate on Jamaica’s 4 x 100-meter relay team at the Osaka World Championships. Fraser-Pryce ran in the heat, then watched her teammates finish second, securing her a silver medal.
Just one year later, Fraser-Pryce surprised many by finishing second in the 100 at Jamaica’s Olympic Trials. Her time of 10.85 seconds clearly made her a medal contender in Beijing, but she was far from the favorite. But for the second time that summer, Fraser-Pryce surprised the experts. She won her three heats with progressively faster times, then led a Jamaican medals sweep in the final, in a then-personal best 10.78 seconds. She ran the opening leg for Jamaica’s 4 x 100-meter relay team but missed a chance for a second medal due to a muffed baton exchange later in the race.
After overcoming appendix surgery and a pulled hamstring earlier in the year, Fraser-Pryce improved her PR to 10.73 in the 2009 World Championship final, and she needed almost every bit of it to edge fellow Jamaican Kerron Stewart for the gold medal. Fraser-Pryce then ran the second leg of Jamaica’s victorious 4 x 100 relay team, to claim another gold.
The only glitch in Fraser-Pryce’s track and field career to date is the 6-month suspension she suffered after testing positive for a banned substance, oxycodone, in 2010. Fraser-Pryce took the substance, which is neither performance-enhancing nor a masking agent, as part of a pain medication for a tooth problem.
Fraser-Pryce returned to the track in 2011 but only finished fourth in the World Championship 100 meters, then earned a silver medal as part of Jamaica’s 4 x 100 relay squad. She was back in top form in 2012 and decided to try the sprint double at the London Olympics. She ran a personal best 10.70 at the Olympic Trials, then, while she didn’t quite match that speed in London, she was good enough to earn her second gold medal, in 10.75. She also ran a personal best 22.09 in the 200 meters to win the silver medal, behind Allyson Felix. Fraser-Pryce then gained her third medal of the Games as Jamaica placed second in the 4 x 100 relay.
Fraser-Pryce, who’s known for her quick starts, is coached by Stephen Francis and is a member of the MVP (Maximising Velocity and Power) Track and Field Club in Kingston, the same club as former men’s 100-meter world record holder Asafa Powell.
- Height: 5 feet
- Weight: 125 pounds
- Birth date: December 27, 1986
- Hometown: Kingston, Jamaica
- Personal best: 10.70 seconds (100 meters); 22.09 (200 meters)