She’s not back, she’s better, is the phrase that Sha’Carri Richardson has been chanting since she made her track season comeback this year.
Richardson, who failed a drug test a month before the Tokyo Olympics and so missed out on competing there, gave the world the ultimate ‘I told you so’ on Monday in Budapest by winning her maiden title at a global track and field championships with a time of 10.65 seconds, proving that she was really clean at the time. Both Shericka Jackson (10.72) and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (10.77) of Jamaica represented the Caribbean well.
The 23-year-old Richardson muted and heightened the buzz that has followed her since she first appeared on the professional running scene with her triumph.
The time would have qualified as a personal best but that the tailwind exceeded the threshold for official records. She beat Olympic and world champion podium regular Jackson in the 100-meter dash in a Diamond League competition in Doha, Qatar the following month. In July, in a Diamond League competition in Poland, she won again, this time against Jackson.
After failing to qualify for her first global championships in 2022, she was eagerly anticipating the national championships in Eugene, Oregon.
In June of 2021, Richardson became famous for the first time at Hayward Field. She had previously recorded 10.72, the sixth-fastest women’s 100-meter time in history, and became a household name after running 10.86 to win the 100-meter event in the national championships.
Almost immediately, she was heralded as America’s next great sprinter and a hot pick for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
On July 1, 2021, however, the USADA revealed that she had tested positive for marijuana, nullifying her whole performance. Due to her 30-day ban, she was unable to participate in the Olympics’ most prestigious competition. The suspension reignited discussions over whether or not cannabis should be considered a prohibited drug.
The national championships this year would be unusual since they were a qualifying event for the global championships. She made sure to demonstrate this on July 6th, during the first round of competition.
Incredibly, Richardson’s 10.71 was her personal best in the 100-meter dash. She seemed to slow down just before the finish line, palms down as though she needed gravity to keep her spikes planted in the ground. She breezed past the semis, clocking in at 10.75 seconds, and is now in the finals. Before the final, the next-fastest seed time was 10.96.
All the way back to the beginning of the 2021 season, Richardson sported an orange wig. She raced in the same wig for all of the heats and semis leading up to the 100-meter final last month, and then she donned a green headband for the big race. When her name was called, she immediately removed her wig by tugging on the headband. She flung it to the side and continued walking. The audience went wild. Her time of 10.82 seconds was enough to win.
On Sunday, she made her world championships debut, and it was a smashing success. Despite slowing down in the closing metres as if wiping perspiration from her forehead, Richardson easily won. She ran a 10.92 to take first place in her heat and earn a spot in the semi-finals. Of the first heat’s 54 sprinters, only three managed to finish in under 11 seconds.
Richardson’s unpromising performance in the semifinals may be traced back to her sluggish response time. Third behind Jackson and Marie-Josée Ta Lou, she crossed the finish line in 10.84, but it wasn’t fast enough to earn her one of the two automatic qualifying spots. It became immediately obvious that her timing would advance her to the final.
In the championship race, she was given Lane 9, the furthest outside lane. There’s no good place to be in a race when medals are decided by milliseconds and it’s practically difficult to gauge where you stand in relation to the competition.
If no one is in Lane 9’s peripheral vision, then that person must be leading. After closing the gap and overtaking Jackson, Fraser-Pryce, and Ta Lou, Richardson found herself in this position with just a few feet to go.