Stuart Weir profiles the US sprinter who claimed the 60m title in Portland
When Barbara Pierre (7.02) won the world indoor 60m title in Portland earlier this year, beating Dafne Schippers (7.04) and Elaine Thompson (7.06), her victory surprised a lot of people, who would have seen Beijing world 200m champion Schippers as a clear favourite.
When I asked Pierre about her feelings on the race, the answer was very down-to-earth. “I thought anything could happen,” she said. “It could have been anyone’s race but it just happened to be mine. But I didn’t go into the race thinking about beating anybody or even winning. I just wanted to repeat what I’d done at the US trials (she won in 7.00), to execute the best race I could.
“I produce my best race when I just stay focused and do the things that I am supposed to do. But I don’t go into a race thinking ‘I have to win’, ‘I have to beat Dafne’ or ‘I have to beat this or that person’. It’s just, stay cool, stay calm, do what I’m supposed to do -or what my coach tells me to do.”
Pierre was born in Haiti but was raised by her mother in Florida. Her dad was still in Haiti and she would be taken back twice a year to visit him. That left her feeling both American and Haitian.
“It could have been anyone’s race but it just happened to be mine” – Pierre after her World Indoor Championships success
“I was born in Haiti so I am 100 per cent Haitian but I was raised in the States, in Florida. So I can’t really say I am more of this or more of that. It’s an equal thing,” she said.
The 29-year-old started running in high school but with mixed motives. “When you are a teenager you don’t want to be home all the time, so I would do every sport just not to be at home,” she said. “One day me and my friend decided to try out for the track team and I ended up having a talent for that. One of the coaches told me I should run track and convinced my mom. So that was how I started but it wasn’t really something that I wanted to do.”
In her freshman year in college she did track but in her words, she was “just playing around” but when people started telling her she was good, she decided to take it more seriously and “see where this can take me”. She adds with a smile: “And I am still doing it now.”
Pierre ran for Haiti in the 2008 Olympic 100m. She ran 11.52 and 11.56 and qualified for the second round without making the semi-final, but it was a great experience. “That was my first time overseas, she said. “It was amazing being there. The crowd was enormous. That is when I switched from America to run for Haiti. And it was a great experience. I had never experienced anything like that before. It was amazing. I was star struck because of the basketball and gymnastics athletes I was meeting – people that you are used to just seeing on TV.”
By 2011 she had switched again to compete for USA, winning silver medals in the PanAm Games in the 100m and the relay. In the 2015 PanAms she won gold with the USA sprint relay and bronze in the 100m. Frustratingly her prelim time would have won the final, but Pierre takes it in her stride.
“I like having two races so that you can come back and fix things in the second one. I am more of a two round girl rather than the one and done”
“I never take things for granted and I never say, ‘man if I had run 10.92 in the final, I would have won’. As long as I finish a race healthy and can go to my next race, I am cool with that and it’s a chance to learn and get my next race right.
“Everything from me is a lesson. But at the PanAms I thought I ran great races – it was 10.92 and 10.96 and then 11.01 in the final. So I ran great times and I can’t kill myself for that or put pressure on myself. When things are done and can’t be undone there’s no reason for me to fret about it if I can’t change the situation. So I just move on to the next one.”
Pierre’s PB of 10.85 came in 2013 and to show it was no fluke, she did it twice. “Yes I ran it in London and then again at US trials,” she said. “The London crowd was so nice. You could hear the crowd like it was right next to you and the crowd gave me a lot of energy when they were screaming, yelling and having fun.
“I feed off that energy. I also love the fact that London had heats and a final. I’m not really fond of just one race. I like having two races so that you can come back and fix things in the second one. I am more of a two round girl rather than the one and done.”
As world indoor champion, Pierre will be invited to any Diamond League she chooses. Don’t be surprised if she makes quite an impact.