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

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

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 remaining 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 remaining 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 need to execute flawlessly for just below 11 seconds — a minuscule misstep could be the distinction between profitable a gold medal and lacking the rostrum altogether, turning into a world famous person 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 informed him she could be retiring.

“At that point, I didn’t want to continue to run,” she stated in a cellphone interview. “It was just too much for me. I was done. It was the worst year.”

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 profitable her first gold on the World Championships this summer season, which start Aug. 19 in Budapest, Hungary. Ta Lou can also compete within the 200 meters, a choice she is going to make after working the 100.

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

Most particular person sports activities provide a number of alternatives annually to spice up an athlete’s legacy and incomes potential, just like the majors in golf or the Grand Slams in tennis. However in monitor and area, a very powerful races are the Olympic Video games, which occur 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 lots of the 100-meter races on the Diamond League circuit, an annual collection of 14 meets that crowns a champion at its conclusion. Many prime 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 priceless for Ta Lou this season as she has tailored to a brand new working type and a coaching routine which have helped cement her as some of the constant ladies on the planet over 100 meters.

“We’ve had a chance to work on some technical things that allow her to be equally strong as all of the Europeans, the Jamaicans and the Americans,” stated Smith, her coach. “So, as she steps to the line, 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 america have dominated the occasion, profitable 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 planet this 12 months, Ta Lou is taken into account an extended 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 quicker occasions than Ta Lou this 12 months, and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the reigning Olympic 100-meter champion, additionally of Jamaica, shall be thought of 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 harm final 12 months saved her from making a World Championship remaining for the primary time since 2015.)

“When I’m talking to her about her, I don’t talk to her about anybody else because our goals are lofty enough that they would put her on the top of the podium,” Smith stated. “I see everybody’s running fast times and so forth, but 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 best African sprinters ever. She holds the African file within the 100 meters, and her three mixed World Championship medals within the 100 and 200 are probably the most by any lady representing an African nation.

Ta Lou’s feats have been much more spectacular as a result of she didn’t start competing in monitor and area till she was 18. She had at all times wished to be knowledgeable 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 “big 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 shocking to see someone of her status really go out her way to try to help people like me,” Gbai stated. “She’s already at that world-class level. Her goal is to get a medal. My goal is to get there.”

Gbai continued: “So it doesn’t matter if she wins. I feel like she’s already done so much and still has so much more talent and years to go. I’m just impressed by all she’s accomplished and continues to accomplish.”

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