Sha’Carri Richardson Wins World Championship

by Pelican Press
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Sha’Carri Richardson has been repeating a mantra since returning to the track this season: She’s not back, she’s better.

Richardson, who missed the Tokyo Olympics after testing positive for marijuana a month before the Games, delivered the ultimate “I told you so” on Monday in Budapest by winning her first title at a world track and field championships, running 10.65 seconds to win the 100 meters. Shericka Jackson of Jamaica was second, in 10.72, and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, also of Jamaica, was third, in 10.77.

With her victory, Richardson, 23, both softened and amplified the noise that has surrounded her since she burst on the professional running scene.

“Honestly I don’t even know what to say,” Richardson said an hour after she had crossed the finish line and stared up at the results with a look of equal parts disbelief and nirvana. “It’s surreal. I think in the morning I’ll probably feel it.”

She got to this place by finding her peace, she said at a news conference at the Los Angeles Grand Prix in May.

“These last three years, I’ve shown you what I can do,” Richardson said. “It just was me that was standing in my way. Now I’m with myself.”

That has resulted in some of her fastest times.

She opened her outdoor season in April, running a wind-aided 10.57. (The time would have been considered her personal best, but the tailwind was above what is allowable for records.) The next month, she won the 100 meters at a Diamond League meet in Doha, Qatar, defeating Jackson, an Olympic and world championship podium mainstay. She defeated Jackson again in July at a Diamond League meet in Poland.

The national championships in Eugene, Ore., where she could qualify for her first world championships after failing to do so in 2022, were finally on the horizon.

It was there, at Hayward Field, in June 2021, that Richardson had first become a sensation. She had run 10.72 — what was then the sixth-fastest women’s 100 meters in history — a few months prior, and stepped into stardom when she won the 100 meters at the national championships with a dominant performance, finishing in 10.86.

She was quickly pegged as America’s next great sprinter and a favorite heading into the Tokyo Olympics.

But on July 1, 2021, the United States Anti-Doping Agency announced she had tested positive for marijuana, automatically wiping out her result. Her 30-day suspension meant she would not be able to compete in the marquee event at the Olympics. The suspension fueled debates over whether marijuana should be on the list of banned substances.

This year’s national championships — a qualifying meet for the world championships — would be different. She made sure to prove that as soon as she stepped onto the track for the first round of competition on July 6.

Richardson ran a remarkable 10.71, her personal best at the time. She seemed to even pump the brakes before the finish line, holding her hands down as if she needed gravity to keep her spikes on the track. She cruised through the semifinals, advancing to the final round with a time of 10.75. The next-fastest seed time heading into the final was 10.96.

Richardson had been wearing an orange wig through the first rounds, which is what she wore for much of her 2021 season. She wore the same wig as she ran through the qualifying heats and the semifinals, and added a green headband when she walked into the stadium for the 100-meter final last month. When her name was announced, she pulled on her headband to take the wig off. She threw it behind her and looked forward. The crowd roared. She won in 10.82.

“Last time I was really here in a big stadium I had my orange hair and I wanted to show you guys that I’m still that girl but I’m better. I’m still that girl but I’m stronger. I’m still that girl but I’m wiser,” she said to Tiara Williams in an interview posted on Instagram after she secured her spot in Budapest.

Her debut on the world championships stage on Sunday could not have gone better. Richardson cruised to a win, slowing in the final few meters as she mimicked wiping sweat from her brow. She won her heat with a time of 10.92, and once again led the field into the semifinals. Only three of the 54 sprinters in the opening heat went below 11 seconds.

In her semifinals, a slow reaction time had Richardson off to a unpromising start. She was able to finish in 10.84, but unable to secure one of the two automatic qualifying slots after finishing third behind Jackson and Marie-Josée Ta Lou. It was quickly clear that her time would move her to the final.

She said her goal for this year was to “to do what I should have done in these last two years already.”

She was assigned Lane 9 in the final, the furthest outside lane on the track. It’s not a desirable position as it’s nearly impossible to get a sense of the field as the race progresses, and medals are determined by milliseconds.

That is, unless the person in Lane 9 is leading and has no one in her periphery. It was the position Richardson found herself in after catching up to Jackson, Fraser-Pryce and Ta Lou, then passing them, with just a few strides to go.

At the start of the race, the opportunity was right in front of her. Then, 10.65 seconds later, she grabbed it.

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