Marie-Josée Ta Lou

Athlete Profile

    Cote D'ivoire Cote D'ivoire
    18 NOV 1988
Sprinter Marie-Josee Ta Lou of the Ivory Coast in action (Getty Images)

Personal Best - Outdoor

Performance Wind Place Date
100 Metres 10.86 +0.5 Rio de Janeiro (Estádio Olímpico) 13 AUG 2016
200 Metres 22.21 -0.1 Rio de Janeiro (Estádio Olímpico) 17 AUG 2016

Personal Best - Indoor

Performance Wind Place Date
60 Metres 7.06 Berlin (Mercedes-Benz Arena) 13 FEB 2016

Progression - Outdoor

100 Metres

Performance Wind Place Date
2017 11.03 +0.5 Roma (Stadio Olimpico) 08 JUN
2016 10.86 +0.5 Rio de Janeiro (Estádio Olímpico) 13 AUG
2015 11.02 +0.6 Brazzaville 14 SEP
2014 11.20 -1.4 Marrakech (Le Grande Stade) 11 AUG
2012 11.53 -0.8 Porto Novo 28 JUN
2011 11.56 +1.4 Maputo 11 SEP

200 Metres

Performance Wind Place Date
2017 22.37 +1.5 Eugene (Hayward Field), OR 27 MAY
2016 22.21 -0.1 Rio de Janeiro (Estádio Olímpico) 17 AUG
2015 22.56 -0.1 Beijing (National Stadium) 27 AUG
2014 22.78 +0.3 Marrakech (Le Grande Stade) 14 SEP
2012 23.26 -0.9 Porto Novo 30 JUN
2011 24.12 +1.9 Maputo 15 SEP

Progression - Indoor

60 Metres

Performance Place Date
2017 7.14 Bordeaux (Lac) 18 FEB
2016 7.06 Berlin (Mercedes-Benz Arena) 13 FEB

Honours - 60 Metres

Rank Mark Wind Place Date
IAAF World Indoor Championships 7 7.29 Portland (Oregon Convention Center), OR 19 MAR 2016

Honours - 100 Metres

Rank Mark Wind Place Date
The XXXI Olympic Games 4 10.86 +0.5 Rio de Janeiro (Estádio Olímpico) 13 AUG 2016
15th IAAF World Championships 3sf1 11.04 +0.5 Beijing (National Stadium) 24 AUG 2015
2nd IAAF Continental Cup 2014 4 11.28 -1.5 Marrakech (Le Grande Stade) 13 SEP 2014

Honours - 200 Metres

Rank Mark Wind Place Date
The XXXI Olympic Games 4 22.21 -0.1 Rio de Janeiro (Estádio Olímpico) 17 AUG 2016
15th IAAF World Championships 3sf2 22.56 -0.1 Beijing (National Stadium) 27 AUG 2015
2nd IAAF Continental Cup 2014 5 22.78 +0.3 Marrakech (Le Grande Stade) 14 SEP 2014

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Compiled 1 August 2016

Marie-Josée TA LOU, Ivory Coast (Sprints)

Born 18 November 1988, Bouaflé (Ivory Coast)

Coach: Anthony Koffi

Ivory Coast’s latest sprint sensation, Marie-Josée Ta Lou, had a late start in athletics. While growing up, she had developed a passion for football. She would play at school and in her neighbourhood, Koumassi 05, a suburb of Abidjan, the economic capital of the country. Until the day she caught the attention of a good women’s team that tried to enroll her. Her older brother, a physical education teacher, objected to it. He did not want her to carry on with football, fearing that she would turn into a tomboy. His friends pointed out to him that his sister was very good at sprinting. She regularly defeated boys over 60 and 80 meters, so why wouldn’t she join an athletics club instead? But where to go? The teenager did not have any contacts in athletics.

By chance, she discovered in her final year of high school, that one of her classmates’ mother was an athletics coach. Florence Olonade born Agbo, Ivory Coast 100m champion in 1988, invited Ta Lou for a trial. Barefoot and without preparation, she defeated all the girls who had been training for a while, covering the 200m in 26-27 seconds.

That is how Marie-Josée Ta Lou got into athletics, in April 2007, starting with two training sessions a week. She was not very regular at first, because she had to study for her high school diploma. Besides, her mother, a secretary who raised her four children on her own, did not want her youngest child and only daughter to be involved in sport, because there is no money and certainty in sport, especially in women’s sport in Africa. She wanted her daughter to become a doctor. As a consequence, the youngster had to sneak out for training.

Marie-Josée Ta Lou was rapidly included in the national team. On the last week-end of June 2007, she was part of the 4x100m relay team that clinched bronze in 52 seconds at the West African Championships in Cotonou (Benin), way behind the Nigerian team led by Blessing Okagbare. She was then selected for the African Junior Championships in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) in August, where she clocked 13.21 in the 100m heats. In September, she claimed her first 100m national title in 12.9.

After graduating from high school, Marie-Josée Ta Lou started studying medicine in accordance with her mother’s wishes. She won the 100m-200m double at the national championships in 2008 (12.4 - 25.9) and 2009 (12.1 - 25.0) and finished seventh of the 200m (25.67 into a 1.8m/s headwind) at the 2009 West African Championships in Porto-Novo (Benin).

The heavy school workload made it difficult to combine her studies with serious training. After two years, she decided to drop medicine and start a course in accounting and finance. Meanwhile, her first coach Florence Onolade had also sent the young athlete to a more experienced technician, Jeannot Kouamé, to help her progress.

In 2010, Marie-Josée Ta Lou made herself known on the national scene by claiming the second place of the 100m (12.10) at the international Gabriel Tiacoh meet, held in Abidjan mid-April. In June she once more took the 100m-200m double at the national championships (11.6 - 24.3).

In her first participation in the African Championships, she finished sixth of her 100m semi-final (12.16) and raced in the 200m heats (25.55) in August in Kenya. That year the Ivory Coast federation had two 4-year sports scholarships on offer to pursue studies in China. Her coach pushed for her to be selected as she could not improve much more at home.

At the end of the summer Marie-Josée Ta Lou thus flew to Shanghai University with teammate Wilfried Koffi (who would become double African champion in the 100m and 200m in 2014). Once on site though, reality did not match her expectations. The sprinter had planned to study physiotherapy, but was told that her program only covered Mandarin language classes. While she kept training, she had little access to competition. Competitions were far and foreign athletes were only allowed to take part in preliminary rounds. Besides, it was almost impossible to combine classes, exams and competitions.

In August 2011, the sprinter took part in the World University Games in Shenzhen, China, where she lowered her personal bests to 11.87 and 24.17. She also competed at the All-Africa Games in Mozambique in September, reaching the final in both races. She was seventh in the 100m in a wind-assisted 11.66, after clocking a new best of 11.56 in the heats, and sixth in the 200m in 24.12.

In 2012, Marie-Josée Ta Lou won her first continental laurels at the African Championships in Porto-Novo, Benin. After a fourth place in the 100m (11.53), she claimed the bronze in the 200m (23.44) and in the 4x100m. More importantly, she had dipped below 23.30 in the 200m semi-final (23.26), achieving the B standard for the London Olympic Games.

She was included in the Ivory Coast selection, only to receive, a few days before the start of the Games, the heartbreaking news that she would not be able to compete due to the fact that her teammate Murielle Ahouré had an A standard in the very same event.

In 2013 Marie-Josée Ta Lou opened her season delighting her home crowd with a double win at the Gabriel Tiacoh meet in Abidjan at the end of April. She took part in the World University Games in Kazan in July (semi-finalist in the 100m in 11.73 and eighth of the 200m in 23.63) but her 100m time of 11.58 set in Abidjan would remain her season’s best, as her preparation was affected by a bout of malaria.

At the end of the season though, the sprinter got near breaking point. She could no longer balance studies and sports. On one side, she had difficulties to pass some of her courses and was facing the risk of losing her scholarship. On the other side, her results from the 2012 African Championships had made her realise she had the potential to reach the elite level, but things were not working for her in the current setting.

In August, she decided she wouldn’t stay in China any longer and returned to Ivory Coast. For a while, she thought of quitting the sport and getting back full time to her studies. She was not ready to carry on with the sport unless being given the means to progress. With the help of her first two coaches, she tried to get enrolled at one of the West African High Performance Training Centres in Lomé (Togo) or Dakar (Senegal). T

he rosters were full though and the sprinter found herself on the waiting list.

By chance, a place became available during the autumn, after an athlete decided not to come to Senegal. The Dakar HPTC sprints head coach Anthony Koffi, who had brought Botswana’s quarter-miler Amantle Montsho to the world elite, pushed for his fellow countrywoman to be picked as a replacement. Marie-Josée Ta Lou eventually landed in Dakar at the end of December 2013.

The change in training already started to show results after a few months. In her first race against the country’s US-based star Murielle Ahouré at the Gabriel Tiacoh meet, she finished second in a new personal best of 11.24. She also won the 200m in 23.43. At that time, she was signed by a club in France (Paris’ Stade Français) which helped her to find meets on the French circuit.

She made another breakthrough at the African Championships in August in Marrakech, where she asserted herself as the continent’s third best sprinter, behind world medallists Blessing Okagbare and Murielle Ahouré. In the 100m she clinched bronze in 11.20 and in the absence of Okagbare, she finished second in the 200m, dipping under 23 seconds for the first time (22.87), after clocking 23.02 in the semi-final. She added to her tally another silver with the 4x100m relay (43.99).

Her results earned her a selection in the African team at the IAAF Continental Cup in September in Marrakech, where she finished fourth of the 100m in 11.28 and fifth of the 200m in 22.78, another personal best.

Following her good performances in 2014, the athlete was awarded an Olympic Solidarity scholarship to prepare for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. She also started to work with Italian agent Federico Rosa, which facilitated her participation in international events.

In 2015, Marie-Josée Ta Lou took part many more meets than in 2014 in the approach to the year’s major event. In the 100m, she tied her personal best of 11.20 in Montgeron on 17 May, before clocking a wind-assisted 11.08 to take the win at the Dakar World Challenge the following week. After a series of meets in which she finished in the top two in the 11.20s-11.30s, she clocked 11.06 for sixth place at the Paris Saint-Denis Diamond League on 4 July, when facing the world elite for the first time. In the 200m, she ran three times below 23 seconds; in Kawasaki on 10 May (22.88), Montreuil on 9 June (22.91) and in Sotteville on 6 July (22.85).

For her first World Championships in Beijing in August, her coach Anthony Koffi had set a conservative target of a participation in the semi-finals. She ended up barely missing qualification for the final, finishing third n her semi-final in both events. In the 100m, after clocking a wind-assisted 10.95 in her heat behind Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce, she improved her personal best to 11.04 in the semi to finish tenth of the event.

In the 200m, she lowered her best mark to 22.73 to win her heat, running with spikes borrowed from her friend Cynthia Bolingo of Belgium, having forgotten hers. She then shattered her previous reference with a 22.56 in the semi, three hundredths of a second short of the second qualifying place and was the first athlete out of the final, ranking ninth in the event.

The season was not yet over, with the All-Africa Games still to come in Congo Brazzaville. Her coach had told her before the event: “You know what you are worth. Just have fun and show the public what you are worth”. In the absence of Blessing Okagbare and Murielle Ahouré, Marie-Josée Ta Lou stole the limelight, completing the sprint double with fantastic times despite the lack of competition. In the 100m, her time of 11.02 was a new personal best and a new record of the Games and she ran 22.57 into a 1.1m/s headwind in the 200m. The sprinter was pronounced Best Female Athlete of the All-Africa Games and honoured during the ANOC Awards in Washington in November.

One of the goals set for the 2016 Olympic year was to dip under eleven seconds. The indoor season was included in the programme as a way to work on the start and the acceleration phase. The World Indoor Championships were not really on the agenda, but things changed after she clocked 7.06 in Berlin behind Dafne Schippers on 13 February and 7.09 in Metz eight days later.

In Portland, the sprinter advanced to the final with the last qualifying time (7.15), but in the final she did not hear the pistol and had a reaction time of 0.312 which prevented her from being a factor in the race. She finished seventh and last with the worst time of her season (7.29), a big disappointment for the athlete who was convinced she could have finished in the top three.

The sprinter opened the outdoor season with a great performance at the Doha Diamond League on 6 May, finishing fifth with a time of 11.05. But she injured her left hamstring in the very same race and had to be carried out of the track by her opponents. The injury, which derailed her preparation, sidelined her for a month. She made her return to competition at the Birmingham Diamond League on 5 June with hardly any training, but had to race into a 3.1m/s and could not do better than 11.63.

Ten days later, she raced a 200m in 23.29 in Stockholm, before travelling to South Africa for the African Championships. In Durban she claimed two bronze medals (in the 100m (in 11.15 behind countrywoman Murielle Ahouré and South Africa’s Carina Horn) and the 4x100m, before holding off South Africa’s Alyssa Conley by 0.03 to claim the African title in the 200m (22.81).

The victory turned out to be a big confidence boost for the athlete. After going to Ghana to help her country’s relay team set a new national record of 43.28 on 8 July in Cape Coast, Marie-Josée Ta Lou flew to Formia, in Italy, for a series of European meets and her final preparation camp before the Olympic Games. Lined up in Monaco on 15 July, she false started after feeling one of her competitors move in the blocks. Three days later in Szekesfehervar in Hungary, she finished second behind Blessing Okagbare in a wind assisted 10.95 (+2.6m/s).

On 23 July, the Ivorian sprinter caused a sensation at the London Diamond League, when she produced two runs of 10.96 into headwinds to claim victory in the 100m. She came from behind in the heat to beat Trinidad’s Michelle-Lee Ahye, to post her first legal sub-11. “I could not believe it, I thought this [the heat] was my final, because there was Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in the other race,” she said. But in the final, she matched her performance catching Ahye and Fraser-Pryce from behind to claim the win in the same time. It was again a great surprise for the athlete who explained “I did not know who had won, and then I saw Fraser-Pryce coming to congratulate me. I had never thought I would beat her on a track one day,”

Marie-Josée Ta Lou has hit form just at the right time before the Olympic Games, a sign that all the work is bearing its fruit. She does not want to get over-excited though, claiming the Diamond League is one thing, but the Olympic Games are on another level. Her target for her first Olympics will be to qualify for the final. “Not everybody get there. If I make it to the final, it will already be something big. Then in a final, as you know, anything can happen,”

Personal Bests

60m: 7.06 (2016)
100m: 10.96 (2016)
200m: 22.56 (2015)

Yearly Progression

100m – 2010: 12.10; 2011: 11.56; 2012: 11.53; 2013: 11.58; 2014: 11.20; 2015: 11.02 (10.95w); 2016: 10.96
200m – 2011: 24.12; 2012:23.26; 2013: 23.63; 2014: 22.78; 2015: 22.56; 2016: 22.81

Career Highlights

2007 3rd West African Championships, Cotonnou - 4x100m
2007 heats African Junior Championships, Ouagadougou - 100m (13.21)
2007 1st National Championships - 100m (12.9h)
2008 1st National Championships - 100m (12.4h)
2008 1st National Championships - 200m (25.9h)
2009 1st National Championships - 100m (12.1h)
2009 1st National Championships - 200m (25.0h)
2009 1st National Championships - 100m (12.1h)
2009 1st National Championships - 200m (25.0h)
2009 17th West African Championships, Porto Novo - 200m (25.67)
2010 1st National Championships - 100m (11.6h)
2010 1st National Championships - 200m (24.3h)
2010 sf African Championships, Nairobi - 100m (12.16)
2010 heats African Championships. Nairobi - 200m (25.55)
2011 qf Universiade, Shenzhen - 100m (12.02)
2011 qf Universiade, Shenzhen - 200m (24.17)
2011 7th All-Africa Games, Maputo - 100m (11.66w)
2011 6th All-Africa Games, Maputo - 200m (24.12)
2012 4th African Championships, Porto Novo - 100m (11.53)
2012 3rd African Championships. Porto Novo - 200m (23.44)
2012 3rd African Championships. Porto Novo – 4x100m (45.29)
2013 sf Universiade, Kazan - 100m (11.73)
2013 8th Universiade, Kazan - 200m (23.63)
2014 3rd African Championships, Marrakech - 100m (11.20)
2014 2nd African Championships, Marrakech - 200m (22.87)
2014 2nd African Championships, Marrakech – 4x100m (43.99)
2014 4th Continental Cup, Marrakech - 100m (11.28)
2014 5th Continental Cup, Marrakech - 200m (22.78)
2015 sf IAAF World Championships, Beijing - 100m (11.04)
2015 sf IAAF World Championships, Beijing - 200m (22.56)
2015 1st All-Africa Games, Brazzaville - 100m (11.02)
2015 1st All-Africa Games, Brazzaville - 200m (22.57)
2016 7th IAAF World Indoor Championships, Portland – 60m (7.29)
2016 3rd African Championships, Durban - 100m (11.15)
2016 1st African Championships, Durban - 200m (22.81)
2016 3rd African Championships, Durban – 4x100m (44.29)

Prepared by Carole Fuchs for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2016