Marie-Josee Ta Lou on Paris 2024, inspiring Africans and by no means giving up

African female 100m record holder Marie-Josee Ta Lou running at the Dimaond League in Lausanne in June
African feminine 100m file holder Marie-Josee Ta Lou gained on the Diamond League in Lausanne in June

“My calling in athletics is larger than profitable a number of medals,” Marie-Josee Ta Lou tells BBC Sport Africa, reflecting on a season she calls “nice for me”.

There’s a feeling that the quickest lady in Africa has given every thing however fallen wanting full success throughout her decade-long love for the monitor.

The Ivorian star’s accomplishments transcend the continent. To place issues into perspective, if the quickest feminine 100m athletes of all time have been lined up in a race in the present day, Ta Lou would routinely have a lane.

She achieved an African file time of 10.72 seconds through the 2022 Monaco Diamond League, making her the sixth-fastest lady of all time. Nevertheless, this achievement alone has not been sufficient to push her to the best degree of the game, the place victories on the World Athletics Championships and Olympic Video games carry higher weight.

Ta Lou has simply ended one other athletics season during which she got here agonisingly near a podium end on the World Athletics Championships in Budapest in August.

“It actually hurts and I nonetheless cannot say I’m over it,” says Ta Lou.

“I needed to get a medal however completed fourth. I’ve been in a state of affairs the place I’ve been crying alone in my room.

“The assist I obtained from followers internationally and my fellow opponents has been my saving grace.”

‘I may also help folks overcome the worry of failing’

Ta Lou is just not new to being the athlete who virtually makes it towards the dominant People and Jamaicans.

The 2017 World Championships stay her most profitable season, profitable silver within the tightly-contested 200m and the 100m, when she narrowly misplaced her grip on gold on the road to America’s Tori Bowie.

She has competed in 4 Olympic finals, ending fourth in three and fifth in a single. But it surely’s her fourth-placed end in Budapest that despatched Ta Lou’s head spinning.

“Once I participated within the 2016 Rio Video games, which have been my first Olympics, I had hoped to make it to the ultimate, and so ending in fourth place was an incredible expertise,” she says.

“Sadly, the 2020 Olympic Video games turned out to be a catastrophe that I might reasonably overlook. However out of all of the disappointments, this yr’s loss hurts essentially the most. I had felt utterly ready mentally, bodily, and emotionally, and every thing was inside my management. However regardless of my greatest efforts, it simply did not occur.

“I used to be so crushed and even thought-about ending my season in Budapest. However my robust religion in God is what strengthened me to indicate up for a double shot on the Diamond League finals in Eugene.”

Marie-Josee Ta Lou, Dafne Schippers and Tori Bowie at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games 200m final
Ta Lou was lower than half a second behind champion Elaine Thompson-Herah within the 2016 Rio 200m ultimate, with Dafne Schippers and Tori Bowie claiming second and third in a remarkably tight race

Understandably, Ta Lou’s hopes have been at an all-time excessive going into Budapest following a scorching 2023 season.

She was unbeaten in 10 consecutive races, together with Diamond League wins in Florence, Oslo, Lausanne, and London.

On the Oslo Diamond League, she set a gathering file of 10.75 seconds, breaking a time that had stood for 37 years. She matched that point when she gained on the London Diamond League, eclipsing yet one more assembly file and beating Jamaica’s Shericka Jackson on each events.

The earlier London meet file of 10.77 seconds had been set by Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce a decade earlier.

Ta Lou reached the World Championships because the third-fastest entrant of the season behind American Sha’Carri Richardson and Jackson. That put her among the many favourites for gold, with a podium the very least anticipated.

“Typically I really feel like my calling is totally different and means larger than all the time being on the rostrum,” she says.

“It is in regards to the hope I give to folks to maintain attempting and in regards to the legacy that I need to go away behind. I do know there are folks past athletics who see themselves by way of me of their each day struggles.

“I would like folks to see my battles and draw inspiration to maintain pushing on and comply with their desires, Attempting and getting desired outcomes can take a toll on our human nature. I hope I generally is a actual reflection of that never-give-up spirit.

“It is not all the time about being a fierce competitor. I like profitable but when my fourth place may also help folks overcome the worry of failing again and again, then it is higher than a medal round my neck. Possibly it is the medal that God needs to provide me.

“Successful is just not about crossing the road first – it is in regards to the impression you’ve gotten on folks’s lives.”

Inspiring a continent

Gratitude is Ta Lou’s guardian angel as a result of she is aware of all too nicely that she is just not resistant to falling into hopelessness.

Slightly than dwelling on lacking out on the highest three regardless of performing exceptionally nicely all season, she concentrates on the positives.

“I’ve run injury-free for the primary time,” she says. “That newly-found freedom has liberated me, each mentally and bodily.

“I’m extremely grateful for the modifications I’ve seen in my physique since switching coaches and coaching areas.”

Ta Lou says her late former coach, Anthony Koffi, was “like a father to me” however describes transferring her coaching base to the US and dealing with present coach John Smith as”the most effective profession resolution I’ve ever made.”

Her gratitude cup is endlessly on overflow. “I’ve skilled a spread of feelings and endured vital ache, however these experiences have helped form me into the particular person I’m in the present day,” she says.

“Regardless of any challenges I face, I all the time attempt to discover the great and stay grateful.”

Marie-Josee Ta Lou and Shericka Jackson at the 100m final in Tokyo in 2021
Ta Lou and Shericka Jackson certified for the 100m ultimate in Tokyo in 2021 with an equivalent time of 10.79 – however the Jamaican beat her competitor to bronze by 0.15 seconds within the ultimate

With such a constructive outlook within the face of unaccomplished targets, how does this footballer-turned-athlete discover a technique to preserve going for glory?

Is the notion of giving up even part of her profession vocabulary?

“My power comes from God,” says Ta Lou.

“Sports activities psychologists have been essential in serving to most athletes deal with troublesome occasions however I’m totally different as a result of when issues do not go nicely, I wish to be quiet, meditate and pray. That is the place I draw my vigour.”

There have been robust days when Ta Lou has questioned her place within the sport. She has mentioned she is giving up greater than as soon as in her profession.

“I’ve gotten to a spot the place I did not really feel like I might preserve occurring however it’s only a second earlier than I get again to the fundamentals,” she says.

“I’ve a whole lot of components that floor me. First, I acquired into athletics to indicate my mum that I might be good at sport.

“She needed me to go to high school and stay like the traditional woman she had envisioned. I selected my path and finally managed to make her completely happy. I’m not going to surrender her happiness.

“Secondly, I come from a continent that has complicated challenges, and seeing that I’m a supply of sunshine has always motivated me to signify Africa and do it nicely, largely as a result of I do know there are such a lot of ladies who’ve the expertise and skill to be higher than me.

“I need to encourage African ladies to comply with their wildest desires and struggle for his or her house.”

Paris 2024: Does the rostrum beckon?

Talking of representing the continent, Ta Lou has constantly made certain Africa has a lane within the ultimate of the 100m race at each international championship for the previous decade.

However even with all that motivation, some days are harder than others.

“After the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Video games, I had made up my thoughts and knowledgeable my administration and people near me about my resolution to stop,” she says.

“However they would not let me. I skilled a lot assist from all angles. Phrases of affirmation from my fiance meant the world to me by way of that robust season.”

She can also be very near three-time Olympic and 10-time world champion Fraser-Pryce.

“My sister, Shelly, will not let me surrender on operating,” Ta Lou says of the 36-year-old Jamaican.

“She is consistently reminding me that she is older than me and she or he remains to be going robust.

“Her phrases are loud in my head each single day and she or he by no means will get exhausted of motivating me to wake each morning and do what I like.

“Shelly-Ann is without doubt one of the many causes you will note me in Paris for what might be my final Olympic Video games.”

Ta Lou’s cheeky snicker is adopted by a fast disclaimer.

“Proper now, I can say Paris 2024 is my final after which two years from now I am going to say, ‘Oh, my goodness, I am nonetheless right here and I’m giving the Olympics one other likelihood.’

“All I’m telling God as we head to Paris is ‘not one other fourth, please.'”