Sha'Carri Richardson Ushers In New Era Of Team USA Sprinting

by Karen Rosen

Sha'Carri Richardson celebrates winning the Women's 100 Meter final on day 2 of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on June 19, 2021 in Eugene, Ore.


EUGENE, Oregon – Flame-haired Sha’Carri Richardson won the women’s 100 meters at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Track & Field as she continues to turn up the heat in the race to become the world’s fastest woman.
Richardson qualified for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 with a time of 10.86 seconds into a slight headwind after blazing to a wind-aided 10.64 seconds in the semifinals earlier Saturday.
The jubilant Richardson then wasted no time running up into the stands to hug her grandmother Betty Harp, the woman she calls “Big Momma.”
“Honestly, that probably felt better than winning the race, being able to hold her after becoming an Olympian,” Richardson said. “My grandmother embracing me, that person in my life when I was younger -- from day one she was always been in my corner, no matter what I did, if it was good or bad.”
Richardson revealed that she learned last week that her biological mother had passed away, but said “that is still a very, very  sensitive and confusing topic for me to even speak on. But what I will say is I am grateful for her giving me life, bringing me into this world to bring y’all who y’all see today as Sha’Carri Richardson and I will always love and respect her for that.”
Yet it is “Big Momma” who was there for Richardson at her moment of triumph.
“My grandmother is my heart,” she said. “My grandmother is my superwoman.”
Richardson herself looked like a superwoman as she surged into the lead in the last 30 meters of the final. 
Javianne Oliver, who trains with Richardson and led the race at the mid-point, was second in 10.99 seconds, followed by Teahna Daniels in 11.03. They are all first-time Olympians.
Rio team member Jenna Prandini was fourth (11.11), followed by Gabby Thomas (11.15) and English Gardner (11.16), who was also a 2016 Olympian.
An active tweeter whose 63,000 followers are sure to grow now that she has become one of the Team USA faces for the Games, Richardson tweeted early Saturday, “So happy a new generation of athletes.”
At age 21, she is the youngest woman to win the 100 meters at the Olympic Trials since Alice Brown in 1980 at age 19 and was denied a chance to compete at the Moscow Games because of the U.S.-led boycott.
“I use my age as honestly an intimidating factor to everybody else,” Richardson said. “If you’ve been doing this and I step on the scene, I’m letting you know I respect you, but at the end of the day, when we get on this line, what you’ve been doing, you have to do it against me.” 
And she made sure that she couldn’t be missed from the stands at historic Hayward Field. All season Richardson has unveiled new hair colors at various meets, including blue and red. 
This time she sported orange. 
“It was just to be able to stand out on the track to make sure that I’m visible and seen, just like my personality,” Richardson said. “My girlfriend Ashley helped me pick this color. She felt like it was loud and encouraging and honestly dangerous knowing that I’m coming to one of the biggest meets there is in the United States and racing against amazing (people). Ashley, she was like, ‘You’re going to go out there to be the best, you need to look the best. You need to make a statement.’”
She has been making statements all season.
On April 10, Richardson ran a blistering 10.72 seconds, establishing herself as the fourth-fastest American and sixth-fastest female runner of all time. Her time led the world for almost two months. Then on June 5, two-time Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce blazed to a stunning 10.63 seconds, making her the second-fastest performer of all time behind Florence Griffith Joyner (world record of 10.49, 10.61 and 10.62 all in 1988).
Richardson tweeted, “My presence in this track game making history happen, no need for a thank you.” She added two fire emojis.
Fraser-Price, a 34-year-old mother, is 5 feet tall while Richardson is 5-1.
But they are the outsized presences in world sprinting. The last time a Team USA female sprinter won the Olympic 100 meters was 2000, but Marion Jones was stripped of her title in a doping scandal. That means the last American gold medal was 1996 when Gail Devers won her second straight title in the 100.
Justin Gatlin, the 2004 gold medalist in the men’s 100 and silver medalist in 2016 -- and still a force to be reckoned with at age 39 -- gave Richardson some advice before her first Trials: “Just to be myself,” Richardson said. “Don’t contain myself because this meet is so big because of the name on it. Just continue to think of it as another race. And bring to the game what I’ve been bringing. That was the advice for me to stay authentic.”
The Dallas native won the AAU Junior Olympics 100-meter title as a teenager, and then went to LSU. She was the NCAA champion in the 100 meters and runner-up in the 200 as a freshman, with both of her times setting world under-20 records, and promptly turned pro.
Richardson finished eighth at the 2019 national championships in 11.72 seconds, more than a second slower than she ran this year. 
“I would tell 18-year-old me, before heading to LSU, ‘Get ready,’” she said. “You have a lot of unexpected surprises that you didn’t think would come so soon, but you are a warrior and stay ready.”
Richardson added that she would tell her younger self, “Everything you’ve gone through, everything you don’t even understand now, it all will pay off when you least expect it. Continue to be who I am and to allow myself to go through things, that way I can get to the point that I am now.’”
In the heats, Richardson ran the fastest time of 10.84 seconds despite an untied shoelace and vowed to “just continue doing what I’ve been doing. Don’t change anything because why fix something that’s not broken?”
In the semis, she had such a huge lead she pointed at the clock with about 30 meters to go. After all, she knew she was smoking. Richardson, who was aided by a tailwind of 2.6 meters per second (the limit is 2.0) promised to run through the finish line in the final.
When she had accomplished what she set out to do in the Trials, Richardson lingered on the track until only dozens of people remained in the stadium, happily posing for selfies with people who came down to the rail next to the track. 
“My message to my supporters,” said Richardson, who will also race in the 200 meters later in the Trials, “is I thank you for being my supporters. Whether you understand or misunderstand me or not, I’m grateful for the support. Because I have a lot of hate that I get, so to have the love and the support is awesome. I’m going to continue to make you guys proud and give you guys something to continue to support.”
She said she transforms the hate into motivation. 
“But I choose to just remember that they’re on the outside looking in,” she said. “And I have to continue to remember that they see me on the track, but they don’t know who I am as a person  or they choose not to look at that part because they want to pay attention to things they see as negativity to the sport. I just use the haters, shake them off and use them as motivation.”
Richardson didn’t speculate on what time it would take to win the Olympic Games later this summer.
“Honestly, to win the Olympics,” she said, “all of the amazing women that are going to be lined up is going to be every country’s fastest of the fastest, I’m gonna say it could take a world record.” 
She also wouldn’t divulge her hair plans for Tokyo.
“There will be some switching,” said the sprinter who also has long, colorful fingernails like FloJo. “I  have some tricks up my sleeve for my hair. Just stay tuned.”

Karen Rosen has covered every Summer and Winter Olympic Games since 1992 for newspapers, magazines and websites. Based in Atlanta, she has contributed to since 2009.