It was a 2015 of mixed emotions for US sprinter Jeneba Tarmoh, whose season of blistering performances went unrewarded at the Beijing World Championships. As her sights begin to set on Rio 2016, the effervescent American tells SPIKES how she's turning frustration into focus.

Jeneba Tarmoh loves to dance. So what better way than for the happy-go-lucky Californian to wash away any frustration left from “a bittersweet” season than to do what she enjoys most at the Oakland Music Festival last month.

“I danced all day,” Tarmoh tells SPIKES. “It was so therapeutic. I danced away some of the sorrow I felt.”

It was a curious season for Tarmoh to assess. On the one hand, 2015 was the 26-year-old’s best to date. She ran a 200m lifetime best 22.23 in Monaco, blitzed to a pair of Diamond League wins over her favoured half-lap distance (in Birmingham and Rome) and equalled her 100m best of 10.93 at the US championships in Eugene.

Yet when it came to the 200m final at the world championships, the biggest race of her season, she was a bit-part player, finishing sixth despite recording 22.31 – a time which would have earned a medal at each of the previous seven editions of the World Championships.

The race was a special one. Flying Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers became the third fastest woman in history, winning in a championship record 21.63; it was only the second time in history three women dipped below 22 seconds in the same 200m race. Tarmoh herself ran a blistering curve and entered the home straight equal first with Candyce McGrone before being overwhelmed in the final 100m.

“I had run a good turn when I started to feel people passing me,” she explains candidly. “I then almost panicked, thinking ‘why am I not going fast enough?’ Once I finished the race and my name finally popped up on the screen, I thought, ‘oh that is really fast’. I walked off the track with mixed emotions, but very happy with the effort.”

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Tarmoh storms to the win at this year's Rome Diamond League

Tarmoh is an athlete who prefers to see the glass as half-full. As such, she likes to dwell on the many positives of her 2015.

“I had the greatest season I have ever had,” she explains. “I had run well, but just because I wasn’t good enough compared to the other girls [at the world champs] it doesn’t mean I’m slow or a terrible athlete.

“To compare yourself to other people is either going to give you a false sense of satisfaction in victory or it makes you feel real sad. Someone else’s chapter one is not like my chapter one. It is all very different.”

Tarmoh’s chapter one in athletics involved a boy. Based in San Jose, the eighth grader joined the track club “to get a guy’s attention”, but instead her performances turned the heads of high school recruiters. She was offered a scholarship to attend Mt Pleasant High School, and her Sierra Leone-born parents – passionate advocates of the importance of education – encouraged their daughter to take up the offer, and her track career was launched.

Always one of the quickest kids in the neighbourhood, she quickly transferred that speed to the track. Aged just 16 she was selected for the World Junior Championships in Beijing, where she finished seventh in the 200m final and secured gold in the 4x100m.

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Tarmoh won world junior gold in 2008 over 100m

Two years later, after starting her college career in Tennessee, she made her mark globally by striking 100m gold at the 2008 World Junior Championships in Poland.

“Winning this title solidified the belief I had in myself,” explains Tarmoh, who spent one year living in Sierra Leone aged five and can speak three languages – English, Krio and Mende (the latter two widely spoken in the West African nation).

Yet after experiencing an unsettled year in America’s Midwest, she transferred colleges to Texas A&M. There she linked up with coach Vince Anderson and continued to improve. In 2011 she chipped 0.37 from her 200m PB to run of 22.28 for third at the US Championships, qualifying for her first senior US team.

Yet disaster struck at the Daegu World Championships as her body struggled to respond to the intense Korean humidity.

“I’m an asthmatic and I would struggle to be able to breathe after training sessions,” she explains.

Badly compromised, Tarmoh ran 23.60 for a distant sixth in her first round – her slowest 200m performance of 2011.

Jeneba Tarmoh ()

A year on from winning a maiden national title, Tarmoh finished third in the 200m at the 2015 US championships to qualify for Beijing

Post-Daegu, and as a newly turned professional athlete, she joined Bobby Kersee's powerful stable of world-class sprinters, training alongside the likes of American great Allyson Felix. She instantly began to thrive. At the 2012 US Olympic Trials she recorded an identical time to Felix to place third in the 100m. The pair were asked to compete in a race-off to determine the final Olympic placing, but Tarmoh declined the challenge. It is not a decision she regrets.

“It was my first US Trials as a pro athlete and I was excited to be there,” she explains. “I was able to run a PR in every round of the 100m, and close to a PR in the 200m [where she finished fifth]. That shows how good Bobby’s coaching was.”

Tarmoh earned at least some reward by running the heats of the 4x100m at London 2012 to earn a gold medal. Since then the American has continued to go from strength to strength. In 2013 she dipped below 11-seconds for the 100m for the first time (with a legal wind) and finished fifth in the 200m at the 2013 world championships in 22.78.

In Beijing she ran faster than that in both her semi and final, so it is understandable that Tarmoh had mixed emotions for not being rewarded for her best ever showing at a world championships. Next year she hopes for more on the biggest stage of all: the Rio Olympics.

Which begs one final question: did she ever attract the attention of that boy in eighth grade?

“No, I never did,” she adds with a trademark laugh.