Reynaldo Walcott On Coaching Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Elaine Thompson In 2024

By Anderson Emerole

March 26, 2024

KINGSTON – In the major American sports, we’re accustomed to superstars teaming up together to deliver a championship title. In a more individual-focused sport where gold medals are awarded to one person outside of the relays, it’s not as common for track and field’s biggest stars to share the same coach. Reynaldo Walcott of the Elite Performance Track Club in Kingston, Jamaica has the distinct honor of coaching two of the fastest women in history with the Paris Olympics on the horizon.

Walcott has been three-time Olympic gold medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce’s coach since 2020. He helped guide her to her fifth world title in the 100m in 2022 and lowered her personal best to 10.60, which puts her at No. 3 on the world all-time list.

Last fall, Elaine Thompson-Herah announced she had parted ways with coach Shanikie Osbourne and would team up with Walcott. This marks the first time Fraser-Pryce and Thompson-Herah have trained together since their time on MVP Track Club together. Injuries hampered Thompson-Herah’s 2023 season but she managed to close out the year with a season’s best of 10.79 with a third place finish at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon.

In addition to Fraser-Pryce and Thompson-Herah, Walcott also coaches hurdlers Rasheed Broadbell, Rushell Clayton and Megan Tapper.

While in Jamaica for PUMA’s celebration of Champs (the Jamaican high school boys and girls championship and the nation’s biggest sporting event), we had the chance to speak with Walcott on a series of wide-ranging topics. The following has been edited lightly for clarity.

CITIUS MAG: Elaine Thompson Herah recently joined the club. How has her progression been?

REYNALDO WALCOTT: Well, I always say that persons who have achieved a lot, they tend to be very, very focused. So it's way easier to work with mature athletes. And younger athletes sometimes are most times because they're goal-driven. They understand what it means to be successful and they understand what to do to become successful. So what I get, on a day-to-day basis is an Elaine, who is hungry, and an Elaine who is willing to do whatever I ask of her. And it's the same with Shelly-Ann and I had the experience with Shelly-Ann first– Where OK, I don't have to tell her to do something twice. Matter of fact, she's probably going to be the one to nudge me. “Hey coach, what are we going to do tomorrow? What's the plan for tomorrow?” She’s just so hungry, despite the success that's there before. And I think it's more a matter of perfecting your craft, perfecting the best stuff. Whatever you do. How do I become better at this, what I've been practicing?

Because there's always this belief inside that whatever I do yesterday I'm going to try to find a way to do better tomorrow, the day after. And that just keeps fueling them.

That just keeps motivating them to just keep working. So that's the experience on a day-to-day basis where I go to my bed a bit excited and I wake up refreshed, looking forward. I'm like, ‘Alright, what am I going to see today? How are the times going to look?’

CITIUS MAG: Between Shelly-Ann and Elaine, what's like the training situation? Do they train together or separate at different times? What's the setup with them?

REYNALDO WALCOTT: It's interesting that there's such a focus on their training setup. Each person will train based on their needs, based on the events they are participating in and their current condition. So all members of my group, the training times that they get is just relative to the stuff that they have to do and based on their own needs. So that applies to everybody.

Elaine Thompson-Herah running the 2nd fastest 100m ever, 10.54 at the 2021 Prefontaine ClassicElaine Thompson-Herah running the 2nd fastest 100m ever, 10.54 at the 2021 Prefontaine Classic

Kevin Morris/@KevMoFoto

CITIUS MAG: Have you seen anything in training from them that's like, ‘OK, they're on for something big this year’?

REYNALDO WALCOTT: Well, I'm not normally one to discuss what happens in training on a day-to-day basis. But they expect a lot of themself. I expect a lot from them. And naturally, Jamaica expects a lot from them. So that's never lost on either party. Whether it's a coach, the athletes or even just the expectations of the nation. So I'm always optimistic. I'm always very, very positive and hopeful. And whenever the achievement comes, then I just say a silent prayer like,’ Thank God it happens.’ But I also don't want to add any additional pressure because they themselves pressure themselves a whole lot just to be the best they can be.

CITIUS MAG: Around the world, you have athletes like Sha'Carri Richardson, Marie-Josée Ta Lou, or even Julien Alfred and some of these young athletes. How do you look at the landscape of the women's 100m right now

REYNALDO WALCOTT: Well, the good thing is that the fans are in for a treat – whether it's a Diamond League race or even a Gold Level meet. You're guaranteed that once the ladies step on a track, they're going to bring fire. And I mean, every now and then I take off my coach hat and I'm a spectator and I enjoy watching the races every so often. But it's a good look for the sport. It's a good look for the spectators. I'm just hoping that with these quality women, the likes that we've never seen before – because there’s probably one person who has gone faster than what this current crop is doing, but that was just one year, one person – now this whole cohort is so so exceptional. I'm just hoping that what they bring to the table can just help to expand the reach of track and field and also just to expand their earning potential.

Women's 100m finish at the 2023 World Athletics ChampionshipsWomen's 100m finish at the 2023 World Athletics Championships

Johnny Zhang/@jzsnapz

They're doing extreme sports. They're doing stuff that even great people in the past have never done, have never achieved.

You mentioned Ta Lou – a very warm lady. She has placed fourth so many times in times that would normally win. So my heart goes out to her. I do understand the pain that she's going through. What I'm thinking is based on her quality, based on the quality of the field she's competing with. I'm hoping that track and field can transcend to a level where even if she's heartbroken, based on how well she would have done at least she's compensated in a manner that reflects how extremely well she's doing. And not just her, but the whole field, the whole cohort and just the person in track and field overall.

Because let's face it, in a game, the score can go either way and it doesn't really matter whether each person was pushing themselves to the limit or not is just a score, and a team is going to win or lose. But when you step on a track necessarily pushing the human body to its limit each time you do it, and I think it definitely needs— We; as in the the players in the sport with our coaches, athletes and administrators; we need to find a way to just help put it more in the forefront. So that it gets more recognition. it gets more compensation. Just more.

CITIUS MAG: Usain Bolt was the biggest name in the sport. Talking about recognition, do you feel like athletes like an Elaine Thompson-Herah, a Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Marie Jose Ta Lou or Sha'carri Richardson – Do you feel like they get the recognition in the sport that they deserve and that our sport is well represented?

Sha'Carri Richardson racing the 4x100m at the 2023 World Athletics ChampionshipsSha'Carri Richardson racing the 4x100m at the 2023 World Athletics Championships

Kevin Morris/@KevMoFoto

REYNALDO WALCOTT: Overall, I think, no. I mean Sha'carri (Richardson), I think as a result of her being an American, because she won the world championships and she did it in very, very fast times – and she would have beaten the ladies from Jamaica who are extremely well accomplished. Being an American, I think it creates a better platform for her visibility. And her personality helps add to that.

But I think that the Jamaican ladies who have achieved way more and would not necessarily be seen on that same level in that same light. But then the dynamic is that – if you now eventually come and beat these ladies from Jamaica, who would have achieved so much, being an American, then you become like God-status level. And it's just a weird phenomenon because you beat the greats and then you transcend them in terms of the opportunities that have given to you. Praises to her. But then the greats that you have beaten, you just don't get a feeling that they got that same platform.

And I know different dynamics make a difference. The American population is however much more millions but Bolt was able to somehow— I mean again he's a male – transcend that. And I hope that before Shelly-Ann retires, before Elaine retires, maybe something magical can happen so that they can be on that same level that I think they deserve to be on. They are multiple World and Olympic champions. They have careers that span 15 years for one and another maybe ten years. So it's sweet that somebody is getting some amount of recognition, some amount of notoriety from their achievements. But I would hope that all of those who deserve it get their fair share too.

CITIUS MAG: I think 2021 is when Shelly-Ann ran 10.6 for the first time. We saw Elaine and we saw Shericka and Sha'Carri running these 10.6s. Do you think those times have kind of pushed more of the women into the forefront, at least recognition-wise?

REYNALDO WALCOTT: I wouldn't say more. I don't think so. Maybe just one. Outside of just being able to run 10.6, I remember Shelly-Ann doing 10.6 in almost every meet that she ran. It would be almost equivalent to Bolt running 9.6 in every meet that he ran. And he didn't do that. He won gold medals. He broke the world record and he was mostly unbeaten. I think that Shelly-Ann put together the greatest season in 2022. But do you have the impression? I know you're the interviewer— But do you have the impression that that season was celebrated or recognized, as it probably should have been?

CITIUS MAG: I think I agree with you. Every single week, three days apart, she was running 10.6s.

REYNALDO WALCOTT: So let's put that in. Let's put those 10.6s in perspective.

In the year 2023, we saw two legal 10.6s – two in total from two separate persons.

In 2021, so Elaine probably did 10.6 like three times, there about or below 10.6. The Olympic Games, Oregon and the Diamond League — she did it four times. So that's Elaine by herself doing it four times.

Look at that, in comparison to the entire season of last year, where only two performances were below 10.7 and by two separate persons.

So if you look at what Shelly-Ann has done, what Elaine has done in comparison to everybody has combined, you'll still start to feel like— Sure, people know of them but it still doesn't feel like their accolades match the achievement or recognition that they probably should be getting for it.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce on the podium at the 2023 World Athletics Championships.Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce on the podium at the 2023 World Athletics Championships.

Kevin Morris/@KevMoFoto

CITIUS MAG: You also work with Rasheed Broadbell and Megan Tapper is part of your group. How do you kind of approach working with this diverse group of athletes – from hurdlers to sprinters all across the board

REYNALDO WALCOTT: It's in the personality. So instead of coaching the event, I coach a person. Because many times I'll have my plans set out weeks ahead of time. Then you review them weekly and review your plans daily. But then you turn up to practice and your plan is written for a perfect day, a perfect athlete. But then you turn up to practice and then you still have to coach who you see in front of you.

Sometimes an athlete may turn up and verbally they're ready, but then physically they don't look ready. And you have to say, “Hey let's come back next time, maybe later.” And they have to trust you to know that even though the desire is there, the intention is there, but what I am seeing is saying that no, it's not here right now. We know we need to regroup and do it again. So being flexible as a coach and understanding that human beings aren't machines, aren't robots.

They have to deal with a lot when it comes to practice and it may not end when they get to practice. And you have to learn to recognize when the temperature is warm and you need to cool it down a bit – or if it's very cold, you need to be the one to put the fire there. So that's how I think I've managed where if something has to change on the fly, my mind, my personality has to be flexible enough to change it on the fly. Don't get caught up about what I had planned and how it didn't go according to plan. Because, sometimes you are the beneficiary of things that didn't go according to plan. So you have an athlete and they're running 4th going into a finals, but then they come out the winner— you celebrate. But in all reality, we could probably say it went directly according to plan because they won. But to be fair, the likelihood of that person winning was not as strong. But they still won and you're happy. So in the same way you're happy when other things turn out way better than you hoped or expected, you have to be prepared to deal with it when it's not turning out the way you hoped. And just learning to pivot and be with the person, be with a human being in front of you. So that's how I approach it.

Anderson Emerole

Anderson Emerole is an analyst and contributor to CITIUS MAG. He runs The Final Leg, a YouTube channel with up-to-date commentary on track and field news.