Deji’s Doodles: Ta Lou-Smith opens up her season with a fine win in Jamaica, Kerley stumbles again, .

It’s another weekend of breathtaking action in athletics. It all started with the Diamond League in Doha to the Southeastern Conference Championships in Gainesville, Florida and the Jamaican Invitational spiced things up, we had all sorts of records fall and big performances from some of the world’s leading athletes. Marie-Josee Ta-Lou-Smith opened her season with a fine win in the 100m; Zharnel Hughes of Great Britain ignited the track in Kingston with an electrifying performance as he sprinted to clock his first sub-20-second time of the season, beating Fred Kerley and Alison dos Santos opened up his season with a big win in the men’s 400m Hurdles at the Doha Diamond League.

Let’s take a look at some of the major talking points from this weekend’s action.

1.     Ta Lou-Smith isn’t giving up yet…

 

Marie-Josee Ta-Lou-Smith made her individual season debut with a fine over the 100m at the Jamaican Invitational as she delivered a scintillating performance, surging ahead to claim victory in the women’s 100m with a remarkable time of 10.91s, aided by a slight tailwind of 1.1m/s. Believe it or not, it was her first time competing in Jamaica. All the story before the race was about her meeting with her friend on the grid, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. Maybe it did relieve any sort of pressure on her path heading into the race, but one thing you can’t deny is that the Ivorian is on a mission to claim a first Olympic title.

Marie-Josée Ta Lou Wins the Women’s 100m with a time of 10.97 at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Rome/Florence, Italy on 2 June 2023, photo by Matthew Quine for Diamond League AG

There is still some time to go before Paris, but the main goal is to leave there with a shiny medal. Maybe she will settle for whatever color, knowing fully well that this might be her last time at an Olympics. The nature of her execution shows a woman who is relaxed and has put the disappointment from the last season behind her. At 35, Ta-Lou-Smith knows she has limited time, and it takes immense mental fortitude to give it another try.

It might seem like Deja Vu, but that’s the beauty of sports. You just have to keep trying. After all, she can only focus on what is in front of her, and at the moment, this win will serve as a morale booster for her going into the rest of the season.

 

2.     Fred Kerley might be in more trouble

 

Fred Kerley hasn’t won any of his last three races. As strange as that sounds, it’s true. His latest loss was to Great Britain’s Zharnel Hughes who produced an energetic run to register his first sub-20-second mark this season. It wasn’t the loss that mattered only, but how Hughes easily outpaced Kerley who settled for second in 20.17s.

Fred Kerley takes the 100m in Rabat, photo by Diamond League AG

So far this year, Kerley has raced in the 60m indoors, the 100m, and the 200m outdoors. It doesn’t make for good sight that his only wins have come at an Invitational in Florida, where he was the only marquee athlete on the bill. Still, he had opportunities to make a mark at the first Diamond League in China, in which he finished third in the 100m.

The following week, he followed it up with another third-place finish in the 100m, clocking 10.11s to finish behind Akani Simbine and Christian Coleman. Eyebrows are beginning to be raised and it feels like a long time ago in which he became the world champion. One might chalk it down to it being the early days of the season, but the signs are not looking good for him.

 

 

3.     Tobi Amusan reigns supreme at the Jamaican Invitational  

 

Tobi Amusan knows how to turn up when it matters most. Since her watershed moment, when she won the world title in a world record time of 12.12s, the Nigerian has had a target on her back. Doubts must have crept up, especially after she lost her world title in Budapest, but she still ended the season by claiming the Diamond League Trophy in Eugene.

Tobi Amusan, 2022 Nigerian Champs, by Deji Ogeyingbo

Amusan is kicking into gear five in May with a new season on the front burner. The Nigerian was the fastest over the barriers in Jamaica, setting a world-leading time of 12.40 (0.9m/s). Danielle Williams, a two-time world champion, was ahead for most of the race but lost her rhythm over the final two hurdles and finished second with 12.46.

Before this win, Amusan had won the Diamond League race in Shanghai- despite running under protest. Although the win didn’t count, it served as a morale booster leading up to this win in Jamaica. As she acknowledged after the race, her start wasn’t one of the best on the grid, but once she got into her full strides at the seventh hurdle, it was smooth sailing for her.

Amusan’s acknowledgment of her improved health and a pain-free season compared to previous years is significant. It indicates that she has been able to overcome any physical barriers that may have hindered her performance in the past, allowing her to compete at her best. This newfound health and fitness have likely contributed to her stellar performance and world-leading time.

 

 

4.  Alison dos Santos lays down the gauntlet with a big world lead in Doha

Last year was a strange year for Brazilian Sprint-hurdler Alison dos Santos. His injury in late 2023 put a spanner in the works on his ability to defend his title at last year’s world championships in Budapest. It was a situation where he still put himself out there and was able to gauge where he was physically.

If Dos Santos sought a confidence-boosting performance to kick off the Olympic season, he undeniably delivered at the Diamond League in Doha. The Brazilian, who previously set the meeting record of 47.24 two years ago before clinching the world title with a championship record of 46.29, showcased his prowess once again.

Alison dos Santos, screen shot

However, towards the end of that remarkable year, fate dealt Dos Santos a blow in the form of injury, sidelining him for most of the off-season and the first half of 2023. Despite this setback, he persevered through rigorous rehabilitation to reclaim his competitive edge. Though Dos Santos managed a season’s best of 47.38 and a respectable fifth-place finish at the World Championships in Budapest, it was evident that he hadn’t fully regained his peak form.

This win here does him a whole world of good, especially to his confidence. It’s one ingredient top athletes most times fail to get anytime they

5. Tarsis Orogot is the next big sprinter from East Africa

Tarsis Orogot’s emergence as a dominant sprinter at the Southeastern Conference Championships in Gainesville, Florida, signals a potentially groundbreaking shift in track and field, particularly for East African athletes. Traditionally, East Africa, known for its long-distance running prowess, hasn’t produced many sprinters of international acclaim. However, Orogot’s exceptional performances, including setting a new Ugandan record of 19.75 (1.0m/s) to win the 200m, suggest a paradigm shift in this narrative.

Tarsis Orogot, Uganda, next big star from Africa? art by World Athletics

Orogot’s success at the SEC Championships, coupled with his previous achievements such as a top-five finish in the 100m and a personal best time, indicates a remarkable versatility and talent in both sprints. His ability to compete at such a high level across different sprint distances showcases his athleticism and potential for further development.

Moreover, Orogot’s achievement seems reminiscent of fellow East African sprinters like Kenya’s Ferdinand Omanyala, who has made headlines as the fastest man in Africa as well as winning the 100m title at the last Commonwealth Games. This trend might suggest a broader shift in the athletic landscape, where athletes from regions not traditionally associated with sprinting excellence are making significant strides in the sport.

This SEC win will prepare him well for the NCAA Championships next month and boost his confidence when he turns professional later in his NCAA eligibility.

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