Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce on legacy, retirement plans, motherhood, being a ‘hot girl’


Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce dominated women’s sprinting for the last 15 years. In a recent interview, the five-time world 100m champion and eight-time Olympic medalist reflected on legacy, motherhood, retirement plans, life lessons and Black beauty.

*Edited for length and clarity.

OlympicTalk: You are one of the fastest women in the world, the Mommy Rocket herself. A lot of people see your success now but don’t understand where you came from. Can you describe what growing up in Waterhouse, Jamaica was like? 

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce: Waterhouse is a really big neighborhood in Kingston, and it was one of those places where you don’t really have a lot of positive role models. You’re stuck with seeing the influences of other individuals around you and trying to find your way as a teenager.

I lived in a group of homes in a big space called a tenement yard with my two brothers and my mom. The four of us slept on one bed. We had to adjust the way we slept — two heads at the top and two heads at the bottom — to make sure everybody could fit. My bathroom was actually outside. My mom would have to follow me outside and wait for me there as I showered to get ready for school.

A lot of people from my community went to very good schools, but a lot of them didn’t pass. For the girls, they didn’t pass third form (eighth or ninth grade) because they got pregnant. A lot of the boys didn’t survive first form (seventh grade) because they would drop out, join gangs or just skip school to smoke. It was difficult to see that your friends were getting pregnant and just having one kid after another at that age.

I had a strict mom who was really passionate about track and field. From an early age, she always told me that the sport would be my way out. She never let me go outside or talk to the boys on the street to protect me from that lifestyle. It was crazy for me to imagine a future for me as an athlete and also as a girl. I struggled with that identity growing up. Most times I didn’t even tell people at my school that I was from Waterhouse. I would take the bus and get off at a different bus stop and would lie to my friends and tell them I lived around there — which cost me a lot of money.

When I was younger I never knew I was poor. When I got to high school and saw other students getting dropped off in nice cars, and I had to take to the bus, I realized I was poor.

My mom actually sold different things on the streets. I was ashamed because sometimes she would come into school to sell to my teachers, and I would be hiding under the desk. It was difficult. You’re constantly comparing who you are and where you’re from to where your friends are from and who their parents are.

Now that I’m older, I understand clearly that she was doing the best she could with what she had. I appreciate the fact that she never really gave up. She really tried to do her best to make sure that she was steering me on the right path because it was very easy to be distracted by everything that was going on in the community.

How did you get your start in track and field, and at what point do you remember falling in love with the sport?

Fraser-Pryce: The people in my community always called me Merlene Ottey (nine-time Jamaican Olympic medalist sprinter) as a kid because I was always running. When I was about 3 or 4 years old, we had an earthquake. I remember running from the school to my house, and the place was shaking.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce at 2008 Olympics

2012 Olympics (gold in 100m).

Fraser-Pryce: Let me first say that my second Olympics was when I was already aware of what’s happening in the sense that I’ve already won an Olympics and world championships. I think when I went into the 2012 Games I was relieved.

I had a lot of pressure going into that Olympic Games. I definitely felt relieved crossing that line because I wanted it so bad. I wanted to back it up to prove that I’m good and that I belong.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce at London 2012 Olympic Games - Athletics - Women's 100m FinalShelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Jamaica, celebrates after winning the Gold Medal in the Women's 100m Final

2016 Olympics (bronze in 100m).

Fraser-Pryce: Disappointed but content. I had a horrible year because I was dealing with a toe injury that was really bad. I never thought I would actually make it to the national championship much less going to the Games because I couldn’t train for months. I couldn’t put my foot in my spikes. When I got to the line for the Olympics, I was like, listen, we’re just gonna do this, and whatever happens, happens. But I’m glad I was there. I fought so hard to be there, and I was grateful and content because I did all I could, but at the same time I still felt disappointed that I was not able to show up 100%. I was satisfied that I got the bronze medal.

2019 World Championships (fourth world title, 100m).

Fraser-Pryce: There’s so many words to describe that moment. I felt powerful. I felt victorious. I felt triumphant. I just felt a feeling like I could do anything, you know? This was definitely my moment.

I missed the 2017 World Championships because I was pregnant. I was so mad because I wanted to be there [in 2017] and defend my title, but there I was watching the world championships with a huge stomach, not being able to run. It was really hard for me as an athlete. I think that’s why it’s so important to know who you are as an athlete and a person. At the end of the day, track and field will have to end, and you don’t want all your worth to be in just sports because when you take it away, you’ll feel like your world has crumbled.

I was excited to welcome my son, but it was definitely a rough time for me because I wanted to compete. I was watching the world championships on the TV and screaming for my girls.

I remember doing a speaking engagement and telling the audience that 2019 was going to be the greatest comeback ever because I was determined to return to the sport. I knew it in my heart and soul that motherhood was going to be an advantage, a superpower. It was going to help me get to the next level because I was more focused. I was hungry. I had my son, and I had new motivation. I felt rejuvenated. I felt like I was ready.

I came back, and I started to work knowing that it would be a difficult comeback. I knew that I needed to have patience and to listen to my body — especially after having a C-section — and I was OK with all of that.

When I finally got to the 2019 World Championships, I was happy and excited. At the line I felt like I could do anything. I remember hearing the gun, and I took off. When I crossed that line I knew it was a victory, not just for me but for so many other women. For so many other mothers. When we were younger they told us motherhood will have to wait ’til after you stop running because it’s going to ruin your career. There’s this constant fear in your head when it comes to motherhood and starting a family, so crossing that line was a moment not just to be celebrated for me as a Jamaican woman but for an athlete, someone who became a mom after 30.

When you turn a certain age, people like to dictate what you can and can’t do. It happens with women more than it does with men. People think that when women turn 30 you’re supposed to be put on a shelf, and that it’s for us. Being able to defy all those in odds in one race was just brilliant. Having my son in that moment was equally rewarding and fulfilling. To see the very person who I thought at the time was going to end everything become the person that started everything … it was an unbelievable moment.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce at 2019 World Championships

Tokyo Olympics (silver in 100m).

Fraser-Pryce: Confused. I literally didn’t know what happened because I was ready. I changed coaches, so this was my first time going to the event with a new coach. There were so many things that were going on. When I got to the line, one thing that happened differently than before was that my coach was talking to me so much about nailing my start. I usually never have a bad start. I think I was overthinking it, and I had a slight stumble on my third step and just panicked.

I ran the worst race that I could have ran, and I felt like I never gave myself the chance to compete in the best way I could. That hurt. I crossed the line, and I felt so disappointed in the moment. At the end of the day, I was still grateful that I was able to finish on the podium. It’s better to feel disappointed standing on the podium than it is off of the podium.

2022 World Championships (fifth world title, 100m).

Fraser-Pryce: Fun.

This last season I’ve had so much fun — more fun than I’ve ever had in a long time on the track. Being a consistent 10.6 runner going into the world championships was mind-blowing in itself. I never even thought that was possible and I knew that if I was able to consistently run 10.6 seconds then it means there’s still a peak to come. I didn’t want to stress myself out by thinking I needed to match that number in Oregon, I just needed and wanted to win.

Coming across the line, especially being in Oregon where a lot of Jamaicans had the opportunity to come, and the fact that the university already had the green and yellow colors in the stadium, the vibe was just right. I had fun. It was energetic. It was everything. To cross the line again with my fifth world title was definitely one of those record-breaking moments for me adding to my story and legacy of creating your own narrative and finishing on your time. Of not allowing people to dictate what you do and when you do it. If you believe in yourself, it doesn’t matter if anybody goes along with you as long as you’re willing to go the distance to prove yourself.

I definitely believe I can run 10.5, and once I run 10.5 I know 10.4 is possible. I’m chasing this legacy of outdoing myself and putting myself in a position where I can evolve and become extraordinary.

(Editor’s Note: The women’s 100m world record is 10.49, set by Florence Griffith-Joyner in 1988. Fraser-Pryce’s personal best of 10.60 makes her the third-fastest woman in history.)

Football takes significant step in Olympic push

Flag Football
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Football took another step toward possible Olympic inclusion with the IOC executive board proposing that the sport’s international federation — the IFAF — be granted full IOC recognition at a meeting in October.

IOC recognition does not equate to eventual Olympic inclusion, but it is a necessary early marker if a sport is to join the Olympics down the line. The IOC gave the IFAF provisional recognition in 2013.

Specific measures are required for IOC recognition, including having an anti-doping policy compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency and having 50 affiliated national federations from at least three continents. The IFAF has 74 national federations over five continents with almost 4.8 million registered athletes, according to the IOC.

The NFL has helped lead the push for flag football to be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games. Flag football had medal events for men and women at last year’s World Games, a multi-sport competition including Olympic and non-Olympic sports, in Birmingham, Alabama.

Football is one of nine sports that have been reported to be in the running to be proposed by LA 2028 to the IOC to be added for the 2028 Games only. LA 2028 has not announced which, if any sports, it plans to propose.

Under rules instituted before the Tokyo Games, Olympic hosts have successfully proposed to the IOC adding sports solely for their edition of the Games.

For Tokyo, baseball-softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were added. For Paris, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were approved again, and breaking will make its Olympic debut. Those sports were added four years out from the Games.

For 2028, the other sports reportedly in the running for proposal are baseball and softball, breaking, cricket, karate, kickboxing, lacrosse, motorsports and squash.

All of the other eight sports reportedly in the running for 2028 proposal already have a federation with full IOC recognition (if one counts the international motorcycle racing federation for motorsports).

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Helen Maroulis stars in wrestling documentary, with help from Chris Pratt

Helen Maroulis, Chris Pratt

One of the remarkable recent Olympic comeback stories is the subject of a film that will be shown nationwide in theaters for one day only on Thursday.

“Helen | Believe” is a documentary about Helen Maroulis, the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling champion. It is produced by Religion of Sports, the venture founded by Gotham Chopra, Michael Strahan and Tom Brady. Showing details are here.

After taking gold at the 2016 Rio Games, Maroulis briefly retired in 2019 during a two-year stretch in which she dealt with concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder. The film focuses on that period and her successful bid to return and qualify for the Tokyo Games, where she took bronze.

In a poignant moment in the film, Maroulis described her “rock bottom” — being hospitalized for suicidal ideations.

In an interview, Maroulis said she was first approached about the project in 2018, the same year she had her first life-changing concussion that January. A wrestling partner’s mother was connected to director Dylan Mulick.

Maroulis agreed to the film in part to help spread mental health awareness in sports. Later, she cried while watching the 2020 HBO film, “The Weight of Gold,” on the mental health challenges that other Olympians faced, because it resonated with her so much.

“When you’re going through something, it sometimes gives you an anchor of hope to know that someone’s been through it before, and they’ve overcome it,” she said.

Maroulis’ comeback story hit a crossroads at the Olympic trials in April 2021, where the winner of a best-of-three finals series in each weight class made Team USA.

Maroulis won the opening match against Jenna Burkert, but then lost the second match. Statistically, a wrestler who loses the second match in a best-of-three series usually loses the third. But Maroulis pinned Burkert just 22 seconds into the rubber match to clinch the Olympic spot.

Shen then revealed that she tore an MCL two weeks earlier.

“They told me I would have to be in a brace for six weeks,” she said then. “I said, ‘I don’t have that. I have two and a half.’”

Maroulis said she later asked the director what would have happened if she didn’t make the team for Tokyo. She was told the film still have been done.

“He had mentioned this isn’t about a sports story or sports comeback story,” Maroulis said. “This is about a human story. And we’re using wrestling as the vehicle to tell this story of overcoming and healing and rediscovering oneself.”

Maroulis said she was told that, during filming, the project was pitched to the production company of actor Chris Pratt, who wrestled in high school in Washington. Pratt signed on as a producer.

“Wrestling has made an impact on his life, and so he wants to support these kinds of stories,” said Maroulis, who appeared at last month’s Santa Barbara Film Festival with Pratt.

Pratt said he knew about Maroulis before learning about the film, which he said “needed a little help to get it over the finish line,” according to a public relations company promoting the film.

The film also highlights the rest of the six-woman U.S. Olympic wrestling team in Tokyo. Four of the six won a medal, including Tamyra Mensah-Stock‘s gold.

“I was excited to be part of, not just (Maroulis’) incredible story, but also helping to further advance wrestling and, in particular, female wrestling,” Pratt said, according to responses provided by the PR company from submitted questions. “To me, the most compelling part of Helen’s story is the example of what life looks like after a person wins a gold medal. The inevitable comedown, the trauma around her injuries, the PTSD, the drive to continue that is what makes her who she is.”

Maroulis, who now trains in Arizona, hopes to qualify for this year’s world championships and next year’s Olympics.

“I try to treat every Games as my last,” she said. “Now I’m leaning toward being done [after 2024], but never say never.”

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