Marie-Jos%C3%A9e Ta Lou
Marie-Josée Ta Lou
Marie Josée Ta Lou Rio2016.jpg
Ta Lou at the 2016 Olympics
Personal information
Born (1988-11-18) November 18, 1988 (age 28)
Height 1 .59[1]
Weight 50 kg (110 lb)
Sport
Country  Ivory Coast
Sport Athletics
Event(s) 100 meters, 200 meters
Club Stade Français[2]
Coached by Anthony Koffi[2]
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s) 100 m - 10.86 (2016)
200 m - 22.08 (2017)[3]

Marie-Josée Ta Lou (born 18 November 1988) is an Ivorian athlete who specialises in sprinting events. She has won several medals on continental level. She has personal bests of 10.86 seconds in the 100 metres, set at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and 22.08 in the 200 metres set at the 2017 World Championships in Athletics. At the Rio Olympics she finished fourth in the 200 metres, just 0.06 seconds behind the third place.[1]

Personal life

Ta Lou first trained in association football and was convinced to change to sprint by her elder brother in 2008. She was voted the 2015 African Athlete of the Year by the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa. She trained in Paris, France, and studied medicine at the Université d'Abobo-Adjamé in Abidjan.[2]

Career

She had a late start in athletics. While growing up, she had developed a passion for football. She would play at school and in her neighbourhood, Koumassi 05, a suburb of Abidjan, the economic capital of the country. Until the day she caught the attention of a good women's team that tried to enroll her. Her older brother, a physical education teacher, objected to it. He did not want her to carry on with football, fearing that she would turn into a tomboy. His friends pointed out to him that his sister was very good at sprinting. She regularly defeated boys over 60 and 80 meters, so why wouldn't she join an athletics club instead? But where to go? The teenager did not have any contacts in athletics.

By chance, she discovered in her final year of high school, that one of her classmates' mother was an athletics coach. Florence Olonade born Agbo, Ivory Coast 100m champion in 1988, invited Ta Lou for a trial. Barefoot and without preparation, she defeated all the girls who had been training for a while, covering the 200m in 26-27 seconds.

That is how Marie-Josée Ta Lou got into athletics, in April 2007, starting with two training sessions a week. She was not very regular at first, because she had to study for her high school diploma. Besides, her mother, a secretary who raised her four children on her own, did not want her youngest child and only daughter to be involved in sport, because there is no money and certainty in sport, especially in women's sport in Africa. She wanted her daughter to become a doctor. As a consequence, the youngster had to sneak out for training.

Marie-Josée Ta Lou was rapidly included in the national team. On the last week-end of June 2007, she was part of the 4x100m relay team that clinched bronze in 52 seconds at the West African Championships in Cotonou (Benin), way behind the Nigerian team led by Blessing Okagbare. She was then selected for the African Junior Championships in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) in August, where she clocked 13.21 in the 100m heats. In September, she claimed her first 100m national title in 12.9.

After graduating from high school, Marie-Josée Ta Lou started studying medicine in accordance with her mother's wishes. She won the 100m-200m double at the national championships in 2008 (12.4 - 25.9) and 2009 (12.1 - 25.0) and finished seventh of the 200m (25.67 into a 1.8m/s headwind) at the 2009 West African Championships in Porto-Novo (Benin).

The heavy school workload made it difficult to combine her studies with serious training. After two years, she decided to drop medicine and start a course in accounting and finance. Meanwhile, her first coach Florence Onolade had also sent the young athlete to a more experienced technician, Jeannot Kouamé, to help her progress.

In 2010, Marie-Josée Ta Lou made herself known on the national scene by claiming the second place of the 100m (12.10) at the international Gabriel Tiacoh meet, held in Abidjan mid-April. In June she once more took the 100m-200m double at the national championships (11.6 - 24.3).

In her first participation in the African Championships, she finished sixth of her 100m semi-final (12.16) and raced in the 200m heats (25.55) in August in Kenya. That year the Ivory Coast federation had two 4-year sports scholarships on offer to pursue studies in China. Her coach pushed for her to be selected as she could not improve much more at home.

At the end of the summer Marie-Josée Ta Lou thus flew to Shanghai University with teammate Wilfried Koffi (who would become double African champion in the 100m and 200m in 2014). Once on site though, reality did not match her expectations. The sprinter had planned to study physiotherapy, but was told that her program only covered Mandarin language classes. While she kept training, she had little access to competition. Competitions were far and foreign athletes were only allowed to take part in preliminary rounds. Besides, it was almost impossible to combine classes, exams and competitions.

In August 2011, the sprinter took part in the World University Games in Shenzhen, China, where she lowered her personal bests to 11.87 and 24.17. She also competed at the All-Africa Games in Mozambique in September, reaching the final in both races. She was seventh in the 100m in a wind-assisted 11.66, after clocking a new best of 11.56 in the heats, and sixth in the 200m in 24.12.

In 2012, Marie-Josée Ta Lou won her first continental laurels at the African Championships in Porto-Novo, Benin. After a fourth place in the 100m (11.53), she claimed the bronze in the 200m (23.44) and in the 4x100m. More importantly, she had dipped below 23.30 in the 200m semi-final (23.26), achieving the B standard for the London Olympic Games. She was included in the Ivory Coast selection, only to receive, a few days before the start of the Games, the heartbreaking news that she would not be able to compete due to the fact that her teammate Murielle Ahouré had an A standard in the very same event.

In 2013 Marie-Josée Ta Lou opened her season delighting her home crowd with a double win at the Gabriel Tiacoh meet in Abidjan at the end of April. She took part in the World University Games in Kazan in July (semi-finalist in the 100m in 11.73 and eighth of the 200m in 23.63) but her 100m time of 11.58 set in Abidjan would remain her season's best, as her preparation was affected by a bout of malaria.

At the end of the season though, the sprinter got near breaking point. She could no longer balance studies and sports. On one side, she had difficulties to pass some of her courses and was facing the risk of losing her scholarship. On the other side, her results from the 2012 African Championships had made her realise she had the potential to reach the elite level, but things were not working for her in the current setting.

In August, she decided she wouldn't stay in China any longer and returned to Ivory Coast. For a while, she thought of quitting the sport and getting back full time to her studies. She was not ready to carry on with the sport unless being given the means to progress. With the help of her first two coaches, she tried to get enrolled at one of the West African High Performance Training Centres in Lomé (Togo) or Dakar (Senegal). The rosters were full though and the sprinter found herself on the waiting list. By chance, a place became available during the autumn, after an athlete decided not to come to Senegal. The Dakar HPTC sprints head coach Anthony Koffi, who had brought Botswana's quarter-miler Amantle Montsho to the world elite, pushed for his fellow countrywoman to be picked as a replacement. Marie-Josée Ta Lou eventually landed in Dakar at the end of December 2013.

The change in training already started to show results after a few months. In her first race against the country's US-based star Murielle Ahouré at the Gabriel Tiacoh meet, she finished second in a new personal best of 11.24. She also won the 200m in 23.43. At that time, she was signed by a club in France (Paris' Stade Français) which helped her to find meets on the French circuit.

She made another breakthrough at the African Championships in August in Marrakech, where she asserted herself as the continent's third best sprinter, behind world medallists Blessing Okagbare and Murielle Ahouré. In the 100m she clinched bronze in 11.20 and in the absence of Okagbare, she finished second in the 200m, dipping under 23 seconds for the first time (22.87), after clocking 23.02 in the semi-final. She added to her tally another silver with the 4x100m relay (43.99).

Her results earned her a selection in the African team at the IAAF Continental Cup in September in Marrakech, where she finished fourth in the 100m in 11.28 and fifth in the 200m in 22.78, another personal best.

Following her good performances in 2014, the athlete was awarded an Olympic Solidarity scholarship to prepare for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. She also started to work with Italian agent Federico Rosa, which facilitated her participation in international events.

In 2015, Marie-Josée Ta Lou took part many more meets than in 2014 in the approach to the year's major event. In the 100m, she tied her personal best of 11.20 in Montgeron on 17 May, before clocking a wind-assisted 11.08 to take the win at the Dakar World Challenge the following week. After a series of meets in which she finished in the top two in the 11.20s-11.30s, she clocked 11.06 for sixth place at the Paris Saint-Denis Diamond League on 4 July, when facing the world elite for the first time. In the 200m, she ran three times below 23 seconds; in Kawasaki on 10 May (22.88), Montreuil on 9 June (22.91) and in Sotteville on 6 July (22.85).

For her first World Championships in Beijing in August, her coach Anthony Koffi had set a conservative target of a participation in the semi-finals. She ended up barely missing qualification for the final, finishing third in her semi-final in both events. In the 100m, after clocking a wind-assisted 10.95 in her heat behind Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, she improved her personal best to 11.04 in the semi to finish tenth of the event.

In the 200m, she lowered her best mark to 22.73 to win her heat, running with spikes borrowed from her friend Cynthia Bolingo of Belgium, having forgotten hers. She then shattered her previous reference with a 22.56 in the semi, three hundredths of a second short of the second qualifying place and was the first athlete out of the final, ranking ninth in the event.

The season was not yet over, with the African Games still to come in Congo Brazzaville. Her coach had told her before the event: "You know what you are worth. Just have fun and show the public what you are worth". In the absence of Blessing Okagbare and Murielle Ahouré, Marie-Josée Ta Lou stole the limelight, completing the sprint double with fantastic times despite the lack of competition. In the 100m, her time of 11.02 was a new personal best and a new record of the Games and she ran 22.57 into a 1.1m/s headwind in the 200m. The sprinter was pronounced Best Female Athlete of the All-Africa Games and honoured during the ANOC Awards in Washington in November.

One of the goals set for the 2016 Olympic year was to dip under eleven seconds. The indoor season was included in the programme as a way to work on the start and the acceleration phase. The World Indoor Championships were not really on the agenda, but things changed after she clocked 7.06 in Berlin behind Dafne Schippers on 13 February and 7.09 in Metz eight days later.

In Portland, the sprinter advanced to the final with the last qualifying time (7.15), but in the final she did not hear the pistol and had a reaction time of 0.312 which prevented her from being a factor in the race. She finished seventh and last with the worst time of her season (7.29), a big disappointment for the athlete who was convinced she could have finished in the top three.

The sprinter opened the outdoor season with a great performance at the Doha Diamond League on 6 May, finishing fifth with a time of 11.05. But she injured her left hamstring in the very same race and had to be carried out of the track by her opponents. The injury, which derailed her preparation, sidelined her for a month. She made her return to competition at the Birmingham Diamond League on 5 June with hardly any training, but had to race into a 3.1m/s and could not do better than 11.63.

Ten days later, she raced a 200m in 23.29 in Stockholm, before travelling to South Africa for the African Championships. In Durban she claimed two bronze medals in the 100m (in 11.15 behind countrywoman Murielle Ahouré and South Africa's Carina Horn) and the 4x100m, before holding off South Africa's Alyssa Conley by 0.03 to claim the African title in the 200m (22.81).

The victory turned out to be a big confidence boost for the athlete. After going to Ghana to help her country's relay team set a new national record of 43.28 on 8 July in Cape Coast, Marie-Josée Ta Lou flew to Formia, in Italy, for a series of European meets and her final preparation camp before the Olympic Games. Lined up in Monaco on 15 July, she false started after feeling one of her competitors move in the blocks. Three days later in Szekesfehervar in Hungary, she finished second behind Blessing Okagbare in a wind assisted 10.95 (+2.6m/s).

On 23 July, the Ivorian sprinter caused a sensation at the London Diamond League, when she produced two runs of 10.96 into headwinds to claim victory in the 100m. She came from behind in the heat to beat Trinidad's Michelle-Lee Ahye, to post her first legal sub-11. "I could not believe it, I thought this [the heat] was my final, because there was Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in the other race," she said. But in the final, she matched her performance catching Ahye and Fraser-Pryce from behind to claim the win in the same time. It was again a great surprise for the athlete who explained "I did not know who had won, and then I saw Fraser-Pryce coming to congratulate me. I had never thought I would beat her on a track one day."

Marie-Josée Ta Lou had hit form just at the right time before the Olympic Games, a sign that all the work was bearing its fruit. She did not want to get over-excited though, claiming the Diamond League is one thing, but the Olympic Games are on another level. Her target for her first Olympics was to qualify for the final. "Not everybody gets there. If I make it to the final, it will already be something big. Then in a final, as you know, anything can happen."

The Rio Olympics turned out to be both an amazing and heartbreaking experience for Ta Lou. Not only did she convincingly qualify to the final, she performed way better than she had planned. But she came so close to the medals, finishing 4th both in the 100m and 200m, that the achievement originally tasted like a huge disappointment. She set a new PB of 10.94 to qualify to the 100m final with the 7th time. In the final, after getting out of the blocks quickly she was second behind Jamaica's Elaine Thompson until the final metres of the race when Torie Bowie claimed silver on a late charge and Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce caught her as she didn't dip on the line. Both Fraser-Pryce and Ta Lou finished in the same hundredth (10.86) and the Ivorian lost the bronze in a photo-finish by 0.007, 10.852 to 10.859. "It is hard. If I had finished last... but here the difference is almost zero, it is very painful for me," she declared after the race.

Back for the 200m, she wiped 0.5 from her season's best and 0.25 from her lifetime best to win her heat in 22.31 heading the qualifiers for the semi-finals, despite suffering from the flu. She improved that time, clocking 22.28 in the semis, before shaving 0.03 from Murielle Ahouré's national record in final with a time of 22.21 as she had again to settle for fourth after being overhauled by Tori Bowie in the final five metres.

Marie-Josée Ta Lou only got back to serious training in January 2017 due to some health issues. She had a 2 week-indoor season to test her fitness and ended with a season's best of 7.14 at the French championships. She then started her season at the end of April with a local meet in Dakar where she trains, followed by the French interclubs, before joining the Diamond League circuit where she featured in 8 of the 11 meets alternatively over 100m and 200m.

In the most competitive race, the 200m in Eugene on 27 May, which included the top 4 from the Rio Olympics (Thompson, Bowie, Schippers, Ta Lou) as well as the top 2 from the 400m (Shaunae Miller-Uibo, Alyson Felix), Ta Lou finished 6th in 22.37, not far from her level from Rio. In the following races, she never finished lower than 2nd, dropping her time in both events. On 1 July in Paris, she clocked her first sub-11 of the season (10.96), placing second behind Elaine Thompson despite not feeling in top shape. Two weeks later she dropped that time to 10.90 in Rabat, finishing on the heels of the Jamaican. In between, she also set a new national record in the 200m, 22.16, in Lausanne on 6 July, having made Dafne Schippers work hard for the win. She then proceeded to win in Monaco on 21 July with a time of 22.25.

Feeling very close to her teammates from the national team, she then travelled back home to Abidjan to anchor the 4x100m relay that claimed the first gold for the host country at the Francophone Games on 25 July (44.22), before heading to London, where she only has one target: getting the medal that eluded her last year in Rio.[3]

Competition record

Year Competition Venue Position Event Notes
Representing  Ivory Coast
2007 African Junior Championships Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso 13th (h) 100 m 13.21
2010 African Championships Nairobi, Kenya 13th (sf) 100 m 12.16
20th (h) 200 m 25.55
2011 Universiade Shenzhen, China 22nd (qf) 100 m 12.02
18th (qf) 200 m 24.17
All-Africa Games Maputo, Mozambique 7th 100 m 11.66
6th 200 m 24.12
2012 African Championships Porto Novo, Benin 4th 100 m 11.53
3rd 200 m 23.44
3rd 4 × 100 m relay 45.29
2013 Universiade Kazan, Russia 11th (sf) 100 m 11.73
8th 200 m 23.63
2014 African Championships Marrakech, Morocco 3rd 100 m 11.20
2nd 200 m 22.87
2nd 4 × 100 m relay 43.99
2015 World Championships Beijing, China 10th (sf) 100 m 11.04
9th (sf) 200 m 22.56
African Games Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo 1st 100 m 11.02
1st 200 m 22.57
3rd 4 × 100 m relay 43.98
2016 World Indoor Championships Portland, United States 7th 60 m 7.29
African Championships Durban, South Africa 3rd 100 m 11.15
1st 200 m 22.81
3rd 4 × 100 m relay 44.29
Olympic Games Rio, Brazil 4th 100 m 10.86
4th 200 m 22.21
2017 Jeux de la Francophonie Abidjan, Ivory Coast 1st 4 × 100 m relay 44.22
World Championships London, United Kingdom 2nd 100 m 10.86
2nd 200 m 22.08 NR

References

  1. ^ a b Marie-Josée Ta Lou. rio2016.com
  2. ^ a b c Marie-Josée Ta Lou. nbcolympics.com
  3. ^ a b Marie-Josée Ta Lou profile at IAAF

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