Tori Bowie already proved this summer that she has the ability to surprise and she continued that trend at the first European leg of the IAAF Diamond League in Rome on Thursday night (5).
Drawn out in lane seven of the women’s 100m, she had the slowest personal best of the nine sprinters hunched in their blocks and was one of only two women in the race never having run under 11 seconds.
Nevertheless, despite a sluggish start which meant that she was still back in eighth place after 40 metres, she uncorked a devastating surge over the second half of the race to leave a host of better-known names, not least Jamaica’s IAAF World Athlete of the Year and triple Moscow 2013 gold medallist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, trailing in her wake.
Finally hitting the front five metres from the line, Bowie reduced her personal best by 0.05 to 11.05 with the aid of a gentle 0.5 metres-per-second breeze on her back.
Dipping under the elite benchmark of 11 seconds now seems just a matter of time for the Mississippi native, who will have her next 100m outing at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in New York.
Perhaps, though, suggestions of surprise should be tempered as astute observers certainly had taken note of the fact that last Saturday, at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene, she had clocked 22.18 over 200m which remains the fastest time in the world so far in 2014.
Into the bargain, Bowie herself said later that she had been expecting to make an impact in the Italian capital.
“I have been working so hard in practice, so I am not shocked at all about my result, but I’m very, very delighted. It’s such an amazing result. I’ve come out and raced with the best women in the world today and I got the win,” she reflected.
Prior to a few weeks ago, and despite some decent 100m times to her name – although she hadn’t run a 200m before April since her second year at university in 2010 – Bowie was primarily considered to be a long jumper and leapt an absolute best of 6.95m indoors this winter.
She went to the 2014 IAAF World Indoor Championships in that event after finishing second at the US Championships.
“I am still half-and-half between the long jump and the sprints. I feel I will never neglect the long jump, it’s fun. I always have fun, if you are not having fun then there’s no point doing it. I have no special focal point this year, I am taking every meeting at a time,” she added with a smile, clearly enjoying herself in Rome on and off the track.
Cross-country coaching change
Having graduated with a degree in psychology from the University of South Mississippi two years ago, winning NCAA long jump titles both indoors and outdoors in 2011, Bowie first moved to California to be at the US Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, near San Diego, but recently moved across the country to Florida, and is now based in Clermont and coached by the renowned sprint guru Lance Brauman, which may explain her recent breakthrough on the track.
However, her innate talent shone through at high school when she won three long jump state titles, without a coach nor regular access to a long jump pit for practising in her ironically named home town of Sand Hill.
She admits that one thing that is driving her to run fast this summer is to further confound expectations.
After her 200m win in Eugene, when she was drawn in lane one and only got a place in the race at the last minute, she told local reporters: “No one expected me to run well. I heard people say ‘You’re going to get your butt whooped.’
“So, of course, that scared me and I wanted to prove everybody wrong, that was my main focus: showing everyone that I am capable of running a 200. And that’s exactly what I did.”
However, Bowie has been proving people wrong since a very young age.
Just getting a university education and then becoming a professional athlete has meant she has overcome some quite significant hurdles in her life.
As a child, her mother couldn’t care for her and her sister. They were turned over to the local authorities and went into foster care before going to live with her grandmother a year later.
Children from such difficult home backgrounds often have low achievement levels and low aspirations, but it’s clear that Bowie has bucked that trend by force of personality as well as a not inconsiderable amount of perseverance.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF