Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce’s quest to write her name in the annals of Olympic history has grown even more difficult since the end of last summer.
After 10 years of racing professionally, the prolific and previously durable 29-year-old Jamaican sprint star found herself in an unfamiliar position early in the 2016 season. A lingering injury to her left toe has forced her to take off significant time for the first time in her career and she had to make the tough decision to cancel several planned outings.
But the three-time winner of the women’s 100m Diamond Race is now ready to make her 2016 IAAF Diamond League debut in Eugene on Saturday (28) and will race over what she has frequently described as her favourite distance.
“I’ve never really been in this situation before when it comes to injuries. I’m not injury prone. I’ve had slight injuries, but nothing major,” said Fraser-Pryce at the traditional IAAF Diamond League press conference on Friday, the day before the main part of the Prefontaine Classic programme.
“When it just happened it was really nerve wracking. I couldn’t sleep properly, I was anxious, I started to think a lot.”
The injury forced her off the track and out of the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Shanghai earlier this month. In training, she has spent time not on the track, but in the gym.
“Right now, we are still trying our best to get that pressure off the toe and to see how best we can work around it.”
To do that, Fraser-Pryce will rely on her background fitness and a limited racing load to help her recover before the critical moments of the season approach.
Thus far, she ran 23.24 for 200m on home soil in Kingston and then a leg on Jamaica’s 4x100m team at the Penn Relays, both races coming last month.
Her first chance to test the toe in a competitive 100m comes on the quick Hayward Field track.
This will be her first 100m of the season but it won’t be an easy debut race, just embarked upon to shake out the cobwebs.
Fraser-Pryce will face a field that includes seven other women with personal bests faster than 10.90, including the US trio of English Gardner, Tianna Bartoletta and 2011 world champion Carmelita Jeter, Ivory Coast’s Murielle Ahoure and Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor.
Despite the quality competition and fast track, with her toe problems still at the back of her mind, Fraser-Pryce wouldn't discuss a particular time or place.
“Tomorrow is just about going out there and see if I can get something correct. If it’s the first 30 or the last 50 or whatever it is. I’ll be satisfied.”
Last year, her appearance in Eugene helped her reset her season after a slow and ragged start and it's not too difficult to ascertain that Fraser-Pryce is hoping that Saturday's race will have a similar palliative effect.
After struggling in the early part of 2015, she ran 10.81 to win the 100m at the Prefontaine Classic 12 months ago.
From there, she never looked back and won her fourth individual outdoor world title at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015.
Beyond this weekend, the health of Fraser-Pryce will influence the women’s sprint landscape as she tries to become to the first woman to win three successive Olympic titles in any event.
“The stakes are high but I have my goals in mind,” said Fraser-Pryce on Friday. "So I’m not doing any autopsies just yet.”
She admits that the field of rivals she will have to face – not just in Eugene but probably at every race from now to August – is better than it has ever been and the injury makes the task of staying atop the podium in Rio de Janeiro even more difficult.
“Making history is never easy and this is by far the biggest test I will have to face. And I’m very optimistic as well. I believe the time will come when I will get past this and I’m hoping it’s not too late; I’m still very set on the going to the Olympics.”
Kevin Sully for the IAAF