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By Omar Mohammed
TOKYO (Reuters) - Jamaica's Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce will be looking to make history on Saturday as the first woman to win three Olympic 100m gold medals and cement her place as one of the transcendent talents in the sport.
Thirteen years after her triumph in Beijing, at the age of 34, and having taken time out to have a baby, Fraser-Pryce arrived in Tokyo on the back of an astonishing 10.63 second run and hot favourite to match compatriot Usain Bolt with a third gold in the blue ribbon 100m event.
The performance made her the world's fastest woman alive - the time topped only by Florence Griffith Joyner - and is the fastest sprint in more than three decades, a performance that surprised even Fraser-Pryce herself.
"I never expected I would run 10.6," she said after the June race. "Because 10.6 has been a dream, a goal, I've been working so hard, being so patient to see it finally unfold. I'm so ecstatic."
Now she is the woman to beat as she seeks to add to her 2008 and 2012 titles, alongside a bronze from Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
Things haven't gone completely smooth this season as she had a disappointing fourth-placed finish in the opening Diamond League meeting of the season in May, where she lost to Britain's 200m world champion Dina Asher-Smith.
But she won her next Diamond League race in Doha, then stunned the sport with her 10.63 and followed up with a Jamaican national title in 10.71.
STACKED WITH POTENTIAL
Fraser-Pryce is one of a trio of talented and explosive athletes in the Jamaican team that could collect a clean sweep of the medals.
Defending Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah looks best equipped to deny compatriot Fraser-Pryce victory.
She ran the second fastest time this year - 10.71 - on her way to defeating Fraser-Pryce in Hungary three weeks ago, a sign that the 29-year-old may not be ready to relinquish her Olympic title just yet.
Another Jamaican, Shericka Jackson, the 400m Olympic bronze medallist in Rio, has this year focused on short sprints and has run her way into contention.
She promises to be in the medal hunt after producing the fourth-fastest time of 2021, finishing behind Fraser-Pryce at the Jamaica's national championships with an astonishing time of 10.82s.
The United States' chances of a first legal gold since Gail Devers triumphed in 1996 - Marion Jones was stripped of the 2000 title for doping offences - were massively reduced after national trials winner Sha'Carri Richardson was ruled out after testing positive for cannabis.
Richardson's ban means that 26-year Javianne Oliver carries the burden of challenging for medals but her best of 10.96 suggests she might struggle to compete at the very sharp end.
Britain's hope of a first medal in the 100m since 1960 rest with captain Asher-Smith, the 200m world champion.
She has not lost this year and came second at the 2019 world championships behind Fraser-Pryce. With a personal best of 10.83, Asher-Smith is a true contender for the podium in Tokyo, and if everything goes her way and the Jamaicans are a fraction off, she could even dream of a first women's 100m gold for her country.
Fraser-Pryce, however, is vastly experienced and will start as hot favourite. "Shelly is the only person who can lose this race," Usain Bolt told Reuters recently. "All she has to do is go out there and execute and it shouldn't be a problem."
Round one of the race is on Friday, the first day of the athletics programme, with the final on Saturday night.
(Reporting by Omar Mohammed; Editing by Michael Perry)