Elaine Thompson-Herah broke Florence Griffith Joyner’s 33-year-old Olympic record in the women’s 100 meters, pointing at the scoreboard even before crossing the line in 10.61 seconds Saturday to defend her title and lead a Jamaican sweep of the medals.
Griffith Joyner set the previous record of 10.62 at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Thompson-Herah defeated her top rival, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, by .13 seconds. Shericka Jackson, who moved to the shorter sprints for the Tokyo Olympics, won bronze in 10.76.
No Olympic champion had broken 10.7 since Flo Jo back in the day. Thompson-Herah wasn’t sure she would either as she approached the finish. But “I knew that I won,” she said.
“The pointing, I don’t know what it means. To show that I was clear,” she said.
This was the first Jamaican sweep of the medals since the women did it at the 2008 Beijing Games – a feat somewhat overshadowed that week by the record-setting performance by Usain Bolt.
But really, there is no overlooking the Jamaican women, who actually have a longer history of sprint success than the men in the island country. Fraser-Pryce finished on top in that 2008 race, and completed her Olympic set in the 100, where she now has two golds (′08, ′12), a silver and a bronze (′16).
Fraser-Pryce and Thompson-Herah are headed for a possible rematch in the 200, where Thompson-Herah also is the defending champion.
This had been shaping up as a fast race for days, if not months. In June, Fraser-Pryce ran the fourth-fastest time in history at 10.63 seconds.
And when the sprinters arrived in Japan, they discovered a fast track at Olympic Stadium. In the semifinals earlier Saturday, the Jamaicans all cracked 10.8 to get on the list of the 10 best times in Olympic history.
Then, it was Thompson-Herah’s turn to make history.
Flo Jo’s records are older than virtually every sprinter in the women’s game, save Fraser-Pryce, who was born about 18 months before the American set the marks. Griffith Joyner’s world record, the 10.49, is still out there, and no other woman has ever broken 10.6.
Fraser-Pryce came in thinking it could be her, and when she crossed the line in second, she flashed a look of disbelief, then stood stone-faced with her hands on her hips looking at the scoreboard.
Thompson-Herah wasn’t surprised. She was looking left toward the clock as she approached the line. She was pointing even before she got there, conjuring memories of Bolt, who celebrated with 10 meters to go when he ran 9.69 to break the men’s world record in 2008.
“I think I could have gone faster if I wasn’t pointing and celebrating, really,” Thompson-Herah said. “But to show you that there’s more in store. Hopefully one day I can unleash that time.”
The women’s 100 shaped up as potentially the best race of the Olympics, ahead of the Bolt-less men’s sprint.
As if to accentuate that point, the favorite in the men’s race, American sprinter Trayvon Bromell, finished fourth in his qualifying heat and had to wait nearly an hour to see if he’d get one of three wild-card spots into Sunday’s semifinal round.
He did, and said, “Honestly, I have no words for it,” when asked to explain the lackluster run.
Another surprise came in the Olympic debut of the mixed 4x400 relay, where Poland won the gold and Alexander Ogando of the Dominican Republic sprawled over the line to edge out the Americans for second.
The U.S., which was disqualified from the preliminary heat the night before, only to be reinstated after an appeal, settled for bronze. Allyson Felix, who spearheaded a win in this race two years ago at the world championships, was not in the lineup.
The evening’s other medal event was men’s discus, where Daniel Stahl and Simon Pettersson led a 1-2 Swedish finish. The Swedes draped flags over their shoulders and jogged on the grass down the backstretch during a celebration in front of a near-empty stadium.
Not long after, the real running began, and Thompson-Herah found herself in a spot she was familiar with — first at the Olympics — but with a time no woman had ever seen on this stage: 10.61.