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Racers Grand Prix organisers bank on Shelly as drawing card in absence of Bolt

Senior staff reporter

Thursday, June 07, 2018

WHILE JN Racers Grand Prix organisers concede it is impossible to fill the void left after the retirement of Jamaican Usain Bolt, part of their strategy is to lure fans to the meet with the promise of his resurgent compatriot Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

The great Fraser-Pryce, women's 100-metre gold medal winner at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympic Games, is the headliner at the third edition of the Racers Grand Prix set for the National Stadium on Saturday, June 9.

It will only be the 31-year-old's third race since giving birth last year.

The MVP Track Club runner clocked 11.53 seconds to win her season opener at a JAAA All Comers Meet on local soil a few weeks ago. Fraser-Pryce improved her season best to 11.33s in a second-placed finish at the Cayman Invitational last Saturday.

Bolt, 31, the legendary former Racers Track Club sprinter, was the main drawing card for the 2016 and 2017 Racers Grand Prix. He retired last year after winning eight Olympic Games gold medals between 2008 and 2016.

“There is no replacement for the legendary Bolt. He carried the Racers Grand Prix in its formative years and we just have to move beyond Bolt,” said Dennis Gordon, the Racers Track Club director in charge of promotions and communications during yesterday's Press Club at the Jamaica Observer's Beechwood Avenue's offices.

“But if you look at the assembly of athletes [for the Racers Grand Prix], they are world class, and we should have a fantastic meet. The truth is that the excitement around this year is not as great as last year, and that is easy to explain. Having said that, the tickets sales are reasonable and we are still anticipating a full stadium,” he added.

Gordon said the spotlight is on Fraser-Pryce as the current flag bearer for Jamaica's women sprinting after the venerable pair of Merlene Ottey and Veronica Campbell-Brown.

“Marketers look for intrigue that excites the fans. Merlene passed on that baton to to VC [Campbell-Brown] and VC passed it on to Shelly and Shelly is still here with us. She's the reigning queen in our eyes.

“It's the respect we have for her at Racers; it is the respect that the country should have for her as well and her performance. when you look at her resume it is iconic. It's about time as a people we give the respect to the athletes that they deserve,” he explained.

Gordon credited Nugent Walker, head of sponsorship for Racers Grand Prix and member of the organising committee, for conceiving the tagline for this year's showpiece: 'The queen is back'.

“It is only fitting that we came up with that: 'The queen is back'. I'm sure the fans will want to come out and see what the queen has to offer,” Gordon told reporters and editors.

The 2018 Commonwealth Games 400m hurdles gold medallist Janieve Russell is one of the athletes down to compete at the Racers Grand Prix. Her own performance aside, she is looking forward to seeing the “Pocket Rocket” in action.

“I'm very impressed with her progress this year coming after childbirth. She opened her season with 11.5, then her second race was 11.3. So I feel that people are going to come to watch Shelly-Ann Fraser and to see what she can do because each time she runs she's getting faster. I'm very excited because I want to see what she is going to bring forth on that night. I believe she's back,” Russell, 24, told the j amaica Obsever Press Club yesterday.

The 22-year-old Anguilian-born 100m and 200m sprinter Zharnel Hughes, who represents Britain, is also drawn by the allure and magic that Fraser-Pryce brings to the meet.

“It's great to see Shelly-Ann's back out there performing well. I, personally, was surprised when I saw that [11.5], and then she went off to Cayman Islands and lowered the time to 11.3, so it shows the strength in character that Shelly-Ann has. And the determination that she wants to be back out there in the sport is phenomenal,” Hughes said.

Outside of her success in 2008 and 2012, Fraser-Pryce, restricted by a long-standing toe injury, was third in the 100m at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.

She was gold medal champion over 100 metres at the 2009, 2013 and 2015 World Championships. In 2013, she added the 200m and 4x100m relay wins to secure the treble. Fraser-Pryce's 100m best of 10.70s makes her joint national 100m record holder alongside MVP teammate Elaine Thompson.