Elaine Thompson-Herah ran the joint second fastest time in history as she retained her Olympic 100 meter crown on Saturday ahead of pre-race favorite Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in a Jamaican podium sweep.
Thompson-Herah, who won the sprint double at the Rio Olympics in 2016, had come into the marquee event very much in the shadow of Fraser-Pryce.
At 34, and having taken time away from the sport to have a baby, Fraser-Pryce was seeking to win a third gold in the distance, having previously triumphed in the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Games.
But Thompson-Herah was quick out of the blocks, hitting a top speed of 39.7 kph (24.7 mph) down the straight in a 68,000-capacity National Stadium that was void of fans because of coronavirus restrictions in the capital.
Fraser-Pryce reeled her teammate in at the 50-metre mark, but Thompson-Herah dug deep to pull away for a memorable victory in 10.61 seconds, beating by one-hundredth of a second the previous Olympic best set by American Florence Griffith-Joyner at the 1988 Seoul Games.
Only Griffith-Joyner has run faster than the Jamaican, having set the world record of 10.49 at the 1988 U.S. Olympic trials — a day before also timing 10.61.
Fraser-Pryce raced home in 10.74 for silver, while Shericka Jackson clocked a personal best of 10.76, with the first six sprinters all dipping below the 11-second mark.
“I knew I had it in me but obviously I’ve had my ups and downs with injuries,” said Thompson-Herah. “I’ve been keeping faith all this time. It is amazing.
“I’m grateful I could get back on the track, and get back out on the track this year to retain the title. Now I have one more to go,” she added in reference to the 200 meters, with heats on Monday.
The first round of the men’s 100 meter threw up some surprises as American Trayvon Bromell, who owns the fastest time this year of 9.77 seconds, only scraped through as a fastest loser after finishing fourth in his heat.
U.S. teammates Ronnie Baker and Fred Kerley also went through, while an impressive-looking Andre De Grasse of Canada topped times with 9.91.
“It is a season’s best and I am really looking forward to tomorrow night. I am ready to go,” said the Canadian, who won bronze in the event in Rio in 2016.
He has big spikes to fill, as the Tokyo Olympics are the first since Athens in 2004 to take place without Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, winner of eight golds.
There was drama following the women’s 100m semifinals as British world 200 meter champion Dina Asher-Smith said she was pulling out of the event because of a hamstring injury.
She could only manage third place in her 100-meter semifinal, clocking 11.05, which was not enough to progress to the final.
Asher-Smith’s news was mitigated by a trio of Britons qualifying from the semifinals for the women’s 800-meter final on Tuesday.
Jemma Reekie, Keely Hodgkinson and Alexandra Bell will be joined by Jamaica’s Natoya Goule, Americans Athing Mu and world silver medalist Raevyn Rogers, Ethiopian Habitam Alemu and China’s Wang Chunyu.
But there were places neither for world champion Halimah Nakaayi of Uganda nor American world bronze medalist Ajee Wilson.
In the inaugural mixed 4x400m relay, Kajetan Duszynski produced a thrilling sprint from 200 meters out to surge from third place to help Poland to the gold medal.
The quartet of Karol Zalewski, Natalia Kaczmarek, Justyna Swiety-Ersetic and Duszynski clocked 3:09.87.
The Dominican Republic claimed a surprise silver in 3:10.21, with the U.S. foursome, the prerace favorites and reigning world champions, taking bronze (3:10.22) without Allyson Felix in their ranks.
“I can’t believe it, it is a dream since childhood. It has come true,” said Duszynski. “It’s such a great feeling.”
The third gold medal of the night went to world champion Daniel Stahl, who led training partner Simon Pettersson in a Swedish one-two in the men’s discus.
A dominant Stahl threw a best of 68.90 meters, with Pettersson taking silver with 67.39 meters and Austrian Lukas Weisshaidinger claiming bronze (67.07 meters).
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