“I’M JUST STARTING THIS JOURNEY,” says Sha’Carri Richardson.
That June afternoon back in ’19 when as an LSU frosh she stunned the world and destroyed the NCAA 100 field with her World Junior Record 10.75? She doesn’t think of that as a career peak, but rather an opening move.
Noting how fast Richardson progressed can make one’s head spin. The Texas native came to Baton Rouge with prep PRs of 11.28 and 23.28. Her biggest high school claims to fame were a win in the Texas Relays and a Pan-Am Junior relay gold.
But by the end of that whirlwind yearling-campaign ride in purple and gold, she also had a World Junior Record in the 200 (22.17), and had turned pro while still a teenager.
“I didn’t think that was all going to come for at least another year,” she says. “I never thought of going professional so early. Accepting that challenge and the new adjustments in my life, it definitely was an intro to a level of track that I wasn’t prepared for.”
Of the 10.75, she says, “Oh my god, looking back at that race, I see it as being… a really good race, and the craziest part of that was me actually being the runner that ran it. I never would have thought it would have been that time. Then, you know, I didn’t run the last, what, 5m of the race? If anything, it made me more excited for the future.
“What else can I do? Knowing I can improve, knowing what I could’ve run if I had run through it, it all just makes me more excited about training and actually doing what I can do with my talent and my potential.”
Richardson turned pro after her single season in the NCAA, hoping to recreate that form a year later to get on the podium in Tokyo.
She admits it was hard processing the news about the Games postponement. “Our entire mindset was based off the Olympic Trials — and once I qualified for the Olympic Games, of course — going on to the gold medal.
“So when the pandemic hit and we ended up having the Olympics postponed, it definitely was a mental block. My support team around me had to help me gather myself and keep myself on board, and help me remember that even though it’s not happening when we expected it, it is still going to happen and we need to be getting prepared no matter the date.
“At the end of the day, this is what we do. We run track.”
Working with coach Dennis Mitchell in Florida last year, Richardson focused on a tiny 4-meet outdoor season. The results showed that she is on track to be a major contender this summer. Windy clockings of 10.94 and 10.79 primed her engine. In Montverde, Florida, in August she hit the gas with a 10.95 legal heat followed by a barely windy (2.1) final of 10.83. In the 200, with the wind settled down to a 1.3, she reeled off a PR 22.00. Only 10 American women have ever gone faster, and all of them have won World or Olympic golds.
“I was surprised as well as happy with those times,” she says, “knowing with that competition that I was on the level I thought I would have to be on to perform those times. The fact that this was something I was able to do and that me and my coach could do this after just a year of us training together, it also let me see where I would be able to go if I just stay on this road, when I’m actually able to line up with competition and go on the Diamond League circuit and ultimately the Olympics.”
There are fans who would say that Richardson, who will be 20 until March 25, is too young to have a serious shot in an Olympic 100 against veterans like Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Elaine Thompson-Herah and Dina Asher-Smith, among others.
That just throws more fuel into the fire that burns inside the woman who is the fastest teenager ever. “What I love about track & field is that age is just a number,” she says. “When you get on the line to run the 100, it’s about who’s going to do what they need to do to perform the best, to get to the line the first.
“I would always hear, ‘Oh, you’re just a freshman, you shouldn’t worry about trying to be a national champion.’ Or, ‘It’s your first professional year, you’re not going to run as fast because you need to get adjusted and you need to learn the system.’
“I see that as excuses, because your mindset is what’s going to create you. That’s what’s going to drive your motivation. I don’t look at my age. I don’t care about age. ’Cause when we get on that line, when the gun goes off, we’re all running for 1st place.”
Richardson says that her focus is as much on the 200 as it is the 100: “Absolutely. I approach them both as equally as possible. I love them both equally.” Then she reconsiders, “I might love the 100 more, but I definitely love the 200. When I line up for it, I feel like it’s time to go, just as much as it is for the 100.”
Ultimately, Richardson is all about going fast. Just how fast is something she contemplates at times. “The things I hear when I talk to people, people who actually knew that gorgeous, beautiful Black athlete who ran that 10.49, Flojo, when they say things about my running, it makes me wonder.
“If I really put that into my mind, is that something that I could touch? I don’t want to strike it out. I’m not even going to lie to you. I don’t want to live in myself and say that’s not something I can do. That’s definitely something I would work towards. I’m not going to say, ‘If I don’t do it, I’ll be heartbroken,’ but I am going to work as much as I can.”
To say that Richardson is motivated for the Olympics and races beyond would be understatement. She is thrilled, giddy and beside herself with joy that she gets to do this for a living. “This is my passion. This is my love. I’m the young’un in the game and I want to stay here. I want to do what it is that I have been given to do. I want to be a better athlete every time I step on the track.”