Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce vs Usain Bolt: Who Is The Sprinting GOAT?

At the World Athletics Championships, the pocket rocket was on top of the podium at the age of 35
16:04, 18 Jul 2022

There can be no doubt about it now. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is the greatest female sprinter of all time. In Oregon, she won her tenth World Atheltics Championship gold medal and her fifth consecutive gold in the 100m. 

14 years ago she burst onto the scene in Beijing as she took her first Olympic gold in the 100m. She was the youngest athlete in that Olympic final and an unknown quantity in many respects, but she blew the rest of the field away with a storming 10.78 run. 

As Fraser-Pryce made herself at home in the Bird’s Nest, her countryman was about to write himself into Olympic folklore. He only sprinted for 70m of his race, before celebrating for the final 30m way clear of the rest of the field. It was a performance that shook the world, given that Bolt broke the world record in a time of 9.69 and didn’t even look like he was trying. 

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Bolt took athletics into the stratosphere. He was the must-watch man and the men’s sport is still struggling to fill the void that he left behind after his retirement. Before he joined, there was no playfulness at the start of the race, no playing up to the camera. Then, Bolt arrived, and in his own jokey way, changed the way we looked at sprinting. There were several imitators on the men’s side, but nobody quite did it like him, and nobody could beat him. 

When a personality as big as his leaves the sport, it creates a vacuum. Even with the success of the Americans, who bagged a 1-2-3 in Oregon, it feels like the men’s 100m is still missing something. Meanwhile the women’s 100m has never been so exciting. 

13 years ago, in 2009, Fraser-Pryce got her first World Championship gold. In Berlin, once again herself and Bolt took centre stage in the sprint events. This time, the towering giant took his race seriously, and broke the world record in a time of 9.58 seconds. It is a record that still stands to this day, which is a remarkable feat of human achievement given the times had come down consistently over the years. 

Both of them won gold in London 2012 to become double Olympic champions and cement their legacy, and while Bolt went on to become a three-time champ in Rio, it is Fraser-Pryce who has outdone him in terms of longevity. 

Bolt retired in 2017, having completed his goal of becoming a triple Olympic champion in the 100m and 200m. It may not feel like it, but that was five years ago now, and in that half a decade, the ‘Pocket Rocket’ has gone from strength to strength. 

Even before Bolt was sitting with his feet up, she looked as if she was on the decline at the age as she approached 30. She was surprisingly beaten in the Olympic final by compatriot Elaine Thompson-Herah and American Tori Bowie and picked up bronze, and many thought she wouldn’t be able to bounce back from this disappointment. 

But her new coach has invigorated her and taken her performances back to the best, even as she moves into her mid-thirties. She’s just four months younger than Bolt, but has perhaps proved that he called it a day too early. Perhaps it was his dedication that wavered towards the end, but Fraser-Pryce’s determination to extend her career has truly paid off. 

Bolt was always a level above his opposition, and only dealt with brief rivalries with the likes of Tyson Gay during his career but Fraser-Pryce has managed to keep fighting an epic battle on track with Thompson-Herah. In the last two Olympic 100m finals, the younger woman has taken gold, and if she can make it three from three in Paris she will go down as an all-time great. 

But even at the age of 35, Fraser-Pryce is still fiercely competitive. She finished second in Tokyo and this summer, regained top spot on the podium with a blistering run in Eugene. Paris is now two years away, and for all the world it looked like Fraser-Pryce would not run there. But with the way she is extending her career and winning major titles, don’t rule her out not just turning up - but winning the whole damn thing. 

For 14 consecutive years, she has consistently been one of the top three fastest women in the world. Now, at the age of 35, she is back at number one - something Usain Bolt never managed.

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