Sha’Carri Richardson’s New Life Came Quickly

It only took 32.92 seconds for Sha’Carri Richardson to go from star Junior to potential international threat in two events. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

IN THE SPRINTS, just a few seconds can change a life. Sha’Carri Richardson’s life changed in 32.92 of them. That’s her combined time from the 100 (10.75) and 200 (22.17) she ran at the NCAA—both World Junior Records and the former also a Collegiate Record. And oh yeah: the 10.75 made her =No. 9 on the world list. A list where everybody else is a pro.

The two moments were weighted with history—for the runner, the location, and her school. Austin could not have been a more appropriate location for Richardson’s day of days. The Dallas native is intimately familiar with the Mike A. Myers Stadium track—it was the site of her 8 Texas HS State titles.

A good 5m before the 100 finish, she was already celebrating, arms raised high. “When I did that, I kind of reminded myself of being back home, a recap of the Texas Relays, it was kind of just a homey feeling to me,” she says. “I do feel at home. I ran here multiple times during high school, so coming back, especially now that I go to school in Louisiana, coming back to Texas is just amazing. It gives me this other next level of confidence.”

But while the CR was set in Austin, it stayed in Baton Rouge. The baton was passed, so to speak, from her LSU predecessor Dawn Sowell, who clocked an altitude-aided 10.78 three decades ago at the ’89 NCAA in Provo. Says Richardson, “Knowing that she set the record… it made me feel like I had obligation to keep carrying that legacy.”

The World Junior marks knocked off even bigger names: East Germany’s Marlies Göhr and Allyson Felix. Of the latter, she says, “That is amazing, I did not think I was going to do that, so hearing [the announcer] say it afterward, it was like, ‘Did I really do it?’ It was really exciting to know that.”

It’s hard to believe we’ve almost reached the age where youngsters might not have heard of Felix, but we’re not quite there yet, as Richardson says, “I have seen her when I went to Nike elite camp and ran the 200. I saw and took pictures with her.”

Richardson says the NCAA times were not drawn up beforehand, telling reporters that she never sets a time goal because, “if you give yourself a goal, you limit yourself.” Tiger head Dennis Shaver admits he was also surprised, saying, “She’s just a great competitor. I felt like she could win, but I’m not one that predicts times. But she’s been feeling good and looking good. At the end of the day she’s just a great competitor. She just believes she can win every time she lines up.”

But come on, coach—a great competitor is one thing, but those times? Surely there was some hint at practice of what was to come? “She’s had great practices all year and every meet she’s gotten a little bit better, but I felt like if we were to rest her up like we do for championship meets that she’d be able to do some things. I’m not shocked. I’m surprised though that she broke the 100m Collegiate Record because that record has stood for so long and it belonged to one of our former athletes. Dawn Sowell held it for so many years.”

Let the historical record show that while Richardson’s 3-event day was amazing, it was not perfect: Only the 100 produced a gold. She kicked things off with silver in the 4×1. While she ran a brilliant anchor, gaining ground on USC’s Twanisha Terry, she ultimately ran out of real estate. LSU’s consolation prize was the No. 8 collegiate time ever. In the 200, she was a hair behind USC’s Angie Annelus. The loss in the 4×1 “was definitely extra motivation,” Richardson says. “I used that in the next two races. Going into the 100, basically my mindset was to just execute my race the way I’ve been taught, the way I know I can.”

Afterward, she could have gotten lost mentally in the heady exuberance of the moment, but clearly she did not. “Running those two races together, my mindset was to refocus,” Richardson says. “My mindset was this was my last race of the day, of my first season college-wise, so I was just giving my all and executing the best I can.”

Last race of her college season… but what about her down-the-road college career? She avoids that speculation, at the moment, saying she’s not even sure what she’s going to do at the USATF Championships.

Shaver, for his part, seemed optimistic he could hang on to his precocious talent and delay her entry into the pro ranks. Asked about Richardson’s future, the coach says, “Well, obviously it’s going to be good. We just don’t know where it’s going to be. You know how that goes. But she has a good head on her shoulders. She chose LSU because she knows she can get better there and she wants to be in the Olympic Games. And the Olympic Games are not this year, so I would anticipate she’s going to come back and prepare and get ready for the Olympic Games next year. And the NCAA next year—she didn’t win the 200 and she still has goals she wants to accomplish.”

“This whole year has been incredible and unexplainable,” Richardson says. “I myself knew I was going to come into college knowing I was going to compete among the best, but to execute the way I have even shocked myself. I just give it all to God because I know He was the one who blessed me with this skill.”

[NOTE: on the Wednesday after the NCAA Richardson announced that she had turned pro.]