This story first appeared in the September edition of the Arsenal Magazine.
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is, at the tender age of 29, already a sprinting legend – a seven-time world champion and, in the 100m, a double Olympic champion. She clearly knows a thing or two about sporting excellence, which explains why she fell in love with a certain north London club from afar when she was still a girl growing up in Jamaica.
She visited London in July to take part in the Anniversary Games – a test for her fitness as she bid to recover from a long-standing toe injury in time to defend her Olympic title in Rio last weekend – and was thrilled when, on a day of sightseeing, she was driven past the home of her favourite club. So you can imagine she was even more thrilled when her car pulled up and she was welcomed by the club to be given a guided tour of Emirates Stadium.
Of course, we couldn’t let her go without having a chat first, so we sat down in the stadium to ask her about her love for the club, her very own football tournament and her skills…
Shelly-Ann, we hope we’ve given an amazing Gooner a nice surprise. Tell us about your day.
I am so excited. Last year I came and I was wrecked at coming here and seeing the stadium but I didn’t get to go in. Today I was just thinking I was going back to my hotel and I passed the stadium and thought, “There goes the most beautiful stadium in the world,” and then we’re turning in! So of course I am shocked and excited. It’s just a beautiful day today and I am lost for words.
So tell us about being an Arsenal fan. How did that all start?
I was in high school when it all started. Of course I loved Thierry Henry and all my friends were Gunners because of Thierry Henry, so I’ve been watching since then and I got my first jersey in I think 2008. I got it personalised and I still have it to this day.
Do you try to catch up with Arsenal games when you’re busy travelling around the world?
I have no choice because my husband is a football fan as well so we are always arguing about football! He follows another team, and we don’t want to mention that team’s name, and I am an Arsenal fan so of course we are always at home arguing about who is on top. We are always taunting each other about it.
"When I’m retired I’ll come and try out for the Arsenal Ladies team. And who knows, maybe I’ll get in just by speed alone. I’ll play forward, as long as everybody else passes me the ball. That’s fine, I’ll do that. I think I’ll work good running the flank too!"
Well, we’re really pleased as well because we’ve got you and we’ve got 2012 200m Olympic champion Allyson Felix, who’s also an Arsenal fan, so you’ve got something in common with one of your rivals…
I didn’t even know that. A lot of people find it odd that females follow football as much as the males, so most times I don’t really talk about it unless it’s with with my husband or my close friends. I don’t really Tweet about it or Instagram anything – it’s just my own thing and I keep it to myself until I’m at home, when it’s a different thing and we’re back to arguing again – who has the best-looking girls and who has the best players! It’s really incredible to know that Allyson supports the team, and of course she is a great sprinter. To support the same team that she does is good.
We have some quick players in our team, especially Theo Walcott and Hector Bellerin, who can run 40m in 4.78s. How does that compare to you?
I think that’s fast! My fastest time at 40m… I think that’s about the same. [laughs] No, I think he’s a touch faster. For 50m I do about 5.8s.
Arsenal are a London club and London must be a very special city for you as well, having won gold at the Olympics in 2012?
Very special. Oh, right now it's very, very special. I’ve been here many, many times, for track meets mostly – I’ve never been here for vacation and when I come for a track meet that’s all I’m here for so I’m totally zoned in. 2012 was the Olympics and it’s so odd that I get to come here this year, which is the Olympic year as well. This will bring me all the luck and all the glory – I can feel it. And I dressed the part – it was weird because I woke up this morning and I actually wanted to wear red shoes as well. I don’t know why but maybe that was energy saying I was coming here! [Unfortunately Shelly-Ann wasn’t fit enough to win gold, but she did still show her competitive spirit to win a bronze medal.]
Sprinting is obviously number one but do you play football as well?
I can but I don’t. Sprinting is hard work and I want to make sure I protect every part of my body, so I don’t do anything that may harm my sport right now. When I’m retired I’ll come and try out for the Arsenal Ladies team. And who knows, maybe I’ll get in just by speed alone. I’ll play forward, as long as everybody else passes me the ball. That’s fine, I’ll do that. I think I’ll work good running the flank too!
You run your own football tournament at home. Tell us about that.
Yes, I have my foundation – the Pocket Rocket Foundation – and we have football competitions for at-risk males, because we have a lot of communities in Jamaica that engage in violence and we want to keep people away from trouble, and build a relationship between different communities through sports. Playing football can bring anyone together – it brings countries together, it brings different religions together – so it was a great initiative for us to have men in adjacent communities come together and play football. This year will be our fourth year and we’re looking forward to it. I mean, wow, it’s really an honour for me to be able to give back to my community in such a way. I’m trying my best to keep the young men out of trouble because it’s out there and it can be very tempting.
A fellow Jamaican sprinter of yours – Mr Bolt – happens to be a Manchester United fan. Do you give him grief about that?
[laughs] I know, but not really. I watch him from afar and I’m like, “Hmm, typical, the men always seem to support that team”, the team we mentioned earlier. My husband is also a big supporter and I told him, “It makes no sense.” I can’t understand why he’s following that team, but he has been following them for a long time. But it’s very good for him to follow a team that’s not as good as our team!
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