Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce got off to a smooth start on Friday as she launched her quest to become the oldest Olympic 100m gold medallist in history.
The 34-year-old Jamaican sprint queen sauntered through her heat to win in 10.84sec at the Olympic Stadium, all but jogging to the line over the final 20m.
That was good enough to see the world champion advance to the next round with the third fastest time, behind Ivory Coast’s Marie-Josee Ta Lou (10.78sec) and Jamaican reigning Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah (10.82).
Fraser-Pryce is the fastest woman in the world this year over 100m, clocking 10.63 at a meeting in Kingston in June to become the second fastest woman in history.
Only the late 1988 Olympic champion and world record holder Florence Griffith Joyner has run faster over the distance.
The 2008 and 2012 Olympic 100m champion believes her renaissance this year has been due to the extended layoff she took from the sport after the birth of her son in 2017.
“Having that year off with my son kind of rejuvenated my motivation, and what I wanted to achieve – and 10.6sec was one of those barriers I wanted to get to,” she said.
“I think it was good that I never got it earlier in my career because who knows, if I got it earlier I might not be here.”
Nevertheless, Fraser-Pryce admits she did not expect to run so fast so quickly in 2021.
“I’ve been working hard on training in specific areas, especially my technique, because that’s the hardest thing to get,” she told AFP.
“I knew I was in good shape but I never expected to run 10.6 so early in the season.
“I thought it would be later in the season.”
Fraser-Pryce believes a fast track at Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium could help her run faster than 10.6.
“If you notice the heats, there’s some really quick running,” she said. “It’s definitely a fast track.”
Fraser-Pryce’s analysis was confirmed by a slew of quick times on Friday, with no fewer than seven personal bests across the heats, including Ta Lou’s time which which equalled the African record.
“I’m in shock actually,” Ta Lou said afterwards. “I was not expecting to run so fast in the heats. 10.78 – God is great.”
Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith, the reigning 200m world champion who is attempting both sprints, was merely relieved to get her campaign underway.
“It felt good to be out here and to finally get going,” she said. “Today was just about making it through to the next round safely at the same time, knowing I’ve got another level to give tomorrow.”