She’s One of the Fastest Women Ever. All She’s Missing Is a Gold Medal.

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Marie-Josée Ta Lou has usually been unfortunate on days when she wanted to be excellent.

On the 2016 Olympics, Ta Lou, a 34-year-old sprinter from the West African nation of Ivory Coast, missed the ladies’s 100-meter medal stand by simply seven-thousandths of a second. Days later, she misplaced out on a medal by a single place but once more, ending fourth within the 200 meters.

5 years later, Ta Lou headed into the ladies’s 100-meter closing on the Tokyo Olympics with the third-fastest seed time. Ta Lou stated she was in the perfect form of her life, however she handled abdomen points starting within the semifinals. She grunted and grimaced by means of the 100-meter closing as runners pulled forward of her. She completed fourth once more.

In a sport through which the Olympics and the World Championships are paramount — and in a race through which runners must execute flawlessly for just below 11 seconds — a minuscule misstep will be the distinction between successful a gold medal and lacking the rostrum altogether, turning into a world celebrity or fading to a forgotten speedster.

Ta Lou has the eighth-fastest time ever run by a girl over 100 meters (10.72 seconds). But, she has no gold medals to indicate for it.

The Tokyo Olympics was a breaking level. Ta Lou referred to as her fiancé in tears and advised him she could be retiring.

“At that time, I didn’t need to proceed to run,” she stated in a telephone interview. “It was simply an excessive amount of for me. I used to be achieved. It was the worst 12 months.”

After some convincing from her fiancé and her supervisor, moderately than retiring, Ta Lou determined {that a} teaching change may assist her attain the medal stand. She employed John Smith, who additionally coaches final 12 months’s 400-meter world champion, Michael Norman. Smith has helped Ta Lou run the world’s third-fastest time within the 100 meters this 12 months, 10.75 seconds.

She could have one other shot at successful her first gold on the World Championships this summer time, which start Aug. 19 in Budapest, Hungary. Ta Lou might also compete within the 200 meters, a call she is going to make after working the 100.

“I’m actually going for the gold, and I consider that I can do it,” Ta Lou stated. “I’m praying on it.”

Most particular person sports activities provide a number of alternatives every year to spice up an athlete’s legacy and incomes potential, just like the majors in golf or the Grand Slams in tennis. However in observe and discipline, an important races are the Olympic Video games, which happen each 4 years, and the World Championships, which occur each two years. (The World Championships are happening in each 2022 and 2023 after pandemic delays pressured the postponement of the 2021 championships.)

Standout performances at these occasions can result in main sponsorships — and disappointing finishes can create monetary insecurity.

To arrange for this 12 months’s championships, Ta Lou has competed in most of the 100-meter races on the Diamond League circuit, an annual sequence of 14 meets that crowns a champion at its conclusion. Many high athletes skip most of that circuit to make sure they’re as recent as doable for the World Championships or the Olympics.

However the meets have confirmed beneficial for Ta Lou this season as she has tailored to a brand new working model and a coaching routine which have helped cement her as some of the constant girls on the earth over 100 meters.

“We’ve had an opportunity to work on some technical issues that enable her to be equally sturdy as all the Europeans, the Jamaicans and the Individuals,” stated Smith, her coach. “So, as she steps to the road, she’s stepping in with an arsenal equal to theirs.”

Ivory Coast has by no means gained gold within the 100 meters on the World Championships. Jamaica and the US have dominated the occasion, successful 14 out of the 18 golds because the race was first held in 1983. Ta Lou is simply the second feminine sprinter from her nation to earn a medal within the 100 meters.

Nonetheless, even with the third-fastest 100-meter time on the earth this 12 months, Ta Lou is taken into account a protracted shot to win gold. She would both be disrupting a streak of Jamaican dominance within the occasion or spoiling Sha’Carri Richardson’s renaissance. Each Richardson of the U.S. and Shericka Jackson of Jamaica have run sooner occasions than Ta Lou this 12 months, and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the reigning Olympic 100-meter champion, additionally of Jamaica, can be thought-about medal-stand favorites.

However the World Championships have traditionally been fruitful for Ta Lou. In 2017, she gained silver medals within the 100 and 200-meter races, and in 2019, she completed with a bronze within the 100. (A shoulder damage final 12 months stored her from making a World Championship closing for the primary time since 2015.)

“After I’m speaking to her about her, I don’t discuss to her about anyone else as a result of our objectives are lofty sufficient that they’d put her on the highest of the rostrum,” Smith stated. “I see all people’s working quick occasions and so forth, however so is she.”

Ta Lou’s end on the World Championships this 12 months could have little impact on her standing as one of many biggest African sprinters ever. She holds the African document within the 100 meters, and her three mixed World Championship medals within the 100 and 200 are probably the most by any girl representing an African nation.

Ta Lou’s feats have been much more spectacular as a result of she didn’t start competing in observe and discipline till she was 18. She had all the time wished to be an expert soccer participant, however she turned to trace after being satisfied by her brothers to provide the game an opportunity. Now, Ta Lou is a mentor and inspiration for a lot of who run for Ivory Coast.

For Jessika Gbai, 24, a teammate of Ta Lou’s on the Ivory Coast 4×100-meter relay squad, Ta Lou has been an surprising “massive sister” for her since she turned skilled final 12 months. She’s nonetheless considerably startled every time she will get lengthy texts or calls of encouragement from Ta Lou, she stated.

“It’s stunning to see somebody of her standing actually exit her technique to attempt to assist individuals like me,” Gbai stated. “She’s already at that world-class stage. Her purpose is to get a medal. My purpose is to get there.”

Gbai continued: “So it doesn’t matter if she wins. I really feel like she’s already achieved a lot and nonetheless has a lot extra expertise and years to go. I’m simply impressed by all she’s achieved and continues to perform.”

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