Richardson Sprints Strong & Tall Toward Worlds

Sha’Carri Richardson’s unbeaten string, including her first USATF title, has been cut but the World Champs summer is still young. (VICTOR SAILER/PHOTO RUN)

IT’S A SHA’CARRI SUMMER. Richardson, that is. Has been for the last two weeks for sure, and very likely will be through Budapest in a month and beyond. The 23-year-old human comet trailed by a tail of braided tresses took her first USATF 100 title (not erased by a minor doping infraction) early in July, dashed to 2nd in the 200 and has since lit up the invitational Euro circuit.

In a cracking matchup at the Silesia DL in Chorzów she ran down Shericka Jackson, who earlier in the month knocked Richardson out of the 100 list leader position she had held since the Doha DL in May.

Even Richardson’s loss two days later to Longhorn-now-pro Julien Alfred at the Gyulai Memorial raised a stir. Race video reached No. 11 as a YouTube trending topic. And why not? Richardson has 2.4 million Instagram followers — a flamboyant trackster who inspires a wider world audience.

After crossing the line 2nd in the Gyulai dash, Richardson — never one despite her self-proclaimed “warrior” persona to stint on congratulating a winner — heartily embraced Alfred.

The heart-wrenching totality of Richardson’s pre-Tokyo cannabis misstep after the death of her biological mother — “a very sensitive and confusing topic,” she acknowledged at the time — is well known. Richardson was barred by a 30-day ban from racing at the Olympics. At 20. Just days after accomplishing what she termed “one of my biggest goals in life” when she placed first in the Olympic Trials dash: “to have [her grandmother] see me compete at one of the highest levels and be successful, and for her to actually be able to take a medal home.”

The aspiration, Richardson said in the moments afterwards, was for the woman who raised her “to see me run, put my best foot forward every single time.”

Richardson rolls Sha’Carri’s way — and her life experience, including in the ‘21 Olympic year, makes that understandable. She mostly eschews interview interaction with the press. She speaks her mind on issues that move her.

“What this has taught me,” Richardson said at the ’21 Pre Meet — in which she finished a potentially disspiriting 9th in her first race after the cannabis ban — “is that in this sport, no matter what it is — the situation, the circumstance — you can’t sit and dwell because if you sit and dwell you will never go up.

“When they put you down, the only way is up if you see it that way. So I’m not even feeling like I’m down, I’m feeling like I’m going forward. This is one day, tomorrow’s another day, and going from there the days just run together. But overall I know what it is that I need to do, I know what it is that I can do. And y’all are gonna see it. Period.”

At the WC Trials in Eugene this month, Richardson called on social media for athletes to organize. She railed against USATF and NBC over the lack of terrestrial television exposure for the meet.

When she did speak briefly with TV interviewer Lewis Johnson after her powerful 100 victory, she acknowledged the symbolism of tossing her orange wig to the track just before the start. Orange was the hairstyle she had selected for the Olympic Trials contest.

“What did it mean to cross the line, be a national champion, and now you’re going to your first global outdoor championship?” Johnson asked.

Richardson replied, “Well, I’ve been a champion, that’s for one. But the thing I remember the most is the last time I think I stood here on this stadium. With you. And I did an interview when I knew I wasn’t ready to do it. [presumably after the ‘21 Pre drubbing or one of her unsuccessful ‘22 WC races]. But now I stand here with you again and I’m ready mentally, physically, and emotionally.

“And I’m here to stay. I’m not back. I’m better.”

Richardson — proudly the captain of her own ship — skipped sharing the moment with the media denizens working their jobs of the Eugene mixed zone at the Nationals.

Nonetheless, thoughts she shared with the media at the ‘21 Pre meet would seem to ring just as true to her spirit today.

“You have to believe in yourself before you can expect anybody else is going to,” she said. “So you have to have that confidence within you. Because the world can be a foul place. So if you don’t have it within you and you step out into the world knowing the world isn’t all peaches and cream, then the world is going to get to you.

“So with that, I continue to stay strong and tall. My support system, my family, everybody, they keep that in me as well. So honestly, the confidence comes from being grounded, from having that support system. And as long as I’ve got them, the haters can talk, people can talk, but at the end of the day I’m here, you’re still gonna watch. You’re still waiting.”

Yes, we are. Most assuredly for more of this Richardson summer.

Perhaps after Alfred cut her undefeated 100 string in ‘23, Richardson repeated to herself a thought to which she gave voice two years ago:

“Today was a day, but it’s not every day. It’s not the end of the world. And like I say, if you choose to count me out, joke’s on you.”