‘Wow! Wow!’ Women Get Olympic Track Off to Sizzling Start

Usain Bolt might be long gone from the sprint scene. It doesn’t mean Jamaica has slowed down one bit.Nobody has, at least not on the women’s side of the sport.An opening day at the Olympics that’s supposed to produce little more than a brisk jog for the world’s best at 100 meters turned into something very different Friday.Reigning world champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce ran her heat in the nearly empty Olympic Stadium in 10.84 seconds. Her Jamaican rival, defending Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah, finished in 10.82. And Marie-Josee Ta Lou, the Ivory Coast sprinter who finished an excruciating fourth in Rio de Janeiro, kept saying “Wow! Wow!” after she crossed the finish line in a blistering personal best of 10.78.“I’m in shock, actually,” Ta Lou said. “But I know I’m ready.”They were the fifth, sixth and seventh-fastest times of the year, produced on a day when seven of 54 sprinters hit a personal best — all in an opening round that’s supposed to be designed more for shaking out cobwebs than watching the clock.All that even though the field was missing this season’s third-fastest runner, Sha’Carri Richardson, who is back home in the United States following a doping ban.By comparison, only one runner, Fraser-Pryce, cracked 11 seconds in the opening round five years ago in Rio de Janeiro. She went on to win the bronze, behind Thompson (who has since gotten married) and American sprinter Tori Bowie.“I mean, a lot of sprinters are dominating,” Thompson-Herah said.Fraser-Pryce came in as the favorite for Saturday’s final, which is already showing signs of living up to the hype. She ran a 10.63 back in June that has some thinking even Florence Griffith Joyner’s 33-year-old world record of 10.49 seconds could finally be at risk this year.“Honestly, I have no idea,” Fraser-Pryce said when asked about the mark. “It’s super, super competitive. You want to make sure you focus on each round and the things you’re supposed to do.”There were so many unknowns coming into the Olympics – namely if the year-long delay, the empty stadium or the stress of being cooped up in a hotel room in the lead-up to the Tokyo Games would hurt the athletes. At least one group — the women’s sprinters — answered all those questions with an emphatic “No.”Another unknown: Would this be a fast track?“Clearly,” said Daryll Neita of Britain, who ran a personal best 10.96. “It’s going to be a very fast championship, let’s put it that way. It feels amazing.”The first of 48 gold medals on the line over the nine-day meet was up for grabs later Friday in the men’s 10,000. Favorites include Jacob Kiplimo of Uganda and Selemon Barega of Ethiopia.Other morning action on Day 1 went to form. Rai Benjamin of the United States and world-record holder Karsten Warholm of Norway cruised easily through their heats in the 400-meter hurdles, keeping a gold-medal showdown in the cards. Will it take another world record to win?“Maybe someone else will do it,” Warholm joked. “I’ve done my job.”Athing Mu, a contender in the women’s 800, moved through the first round of her race and didn’t seem too bothered that the track announcer mispronounced her name. (For the record, it’s pronounced “uh-THING moh”).“I’m sure everyone saw my face,” the American said. “I don’t even know what he said. It was terrible.”Ju’Vaughn Harrison made it to the high jump final, keeping alive the American’s quest for a high jump-long jump double. Also advancing in high jump was world champion Mutaz Barshim, who wowed his home crowd two years ago when he won the world title in Doha.With thousands of empty green, white and burgundy seats staring back at them, all the “oohs” and “ahhs” for this one came from the athletes themselves. After Round 1 of that women’s 100, there was plenty to get excited about.“It’s whoever gets to the line first wins,” said another contender, Blessing Okagbare of Nigeria, whose 11.05 felt ordinary on this day. “Sometimes it’s not about the time, but about the position.”But sometimes, maybe this time, it could be about both.

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