Sha’Carri is back, Shelly-Ann never left
Source: Loop News
When she stamped her name on the long, illustrious list of American sprint champions earlier this summer, Sha’Carri Richardson also set the stakes for the year ahead of her and the rest of the fast pack of 100-metre runners she’s going against.
“I’m not back. I’m better,” she declared.
Whether that is good enough to win gold medals starting this week at the world championships, then again less than 12 months from now at the Paris Olympics, comes down to whether she can finish in front of defending and five-time world champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and the Jamaican’s teammate, Shericka Jackson.
Jackson has the world’s best time this year (10.65 seconds), but has lost to Richardson in their only two head-to-head matchups in 2023. Fraser-Pryce is trying to match pole vaulter Sergey Bubka’s record for world titles in one individual event. Also in the mix is Marie-Josée Ta Lou of the Ivory Coast, who joins Richardson and Jackson as the three women to crack 10.8 this year
Two years after being denied a spot in the Olympics after testing positive for marijuana, Richardson will line up at her first major competition when the 100-metre heats start Sunday. The meet itself begins Saturday with the early round of the men’s 100, where Fred Kerley defends his title and a strong roster of American runners try to repeat last year’s podium sweep.
In many ways, this year’s meet is a preview of what to expect when many of the same athletes take to the track at the Stade de France in Paris. Missing, however, will be one of the sport’s brightest stars. Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who skipped the 400-metre hurdles this season to run in the 400 flat, withdrew from the worlds because of a nagging knee injury. Her target is Paris, though it’s still a mystery as to which events she’ll run.
This year, a familiar cast threatens the record books: Ryan Crouser in the shot put, Mondo Duplantis in pole vault and Faith Kipyegon in both the 1,500 and 5,000 metres have already set world records in 2023. Also, Poland’s Pawel Fajdek has won five straight titles in the hammer throw and could join Bubka (and potentially Fraser-Pryce) as six-time champions in their event.
The women’s 100 record — a 35-year-old mark of 10.49 owned by the late Florence Griffith-Joyner — has been thought to be in jeopardy ever since Jamacia’s Elaine Thompson ran 10.54 in 2021, about two weeks after winning her second Olympic title.
Griffith-Joyner’s husband, coaching great Al Joyner, said he’s noticed sprinters studying Flo-Jo’s old videos, looking for clues.
“It may click where they execute right and you’re going to see somebody go 10.48 or 10.3,” Joyner said. “It’s going to click for somebody, to the point of saying, ‘Oh, wow’ — because of the level of all the sprinters is out that are running so fast.”
Just as the 100 — and the 200, which takes place next week — will not only be about Richardson, the 23-year-old Richardson is not only about running.
She is a fashion icon, a voice for the growing awareness about mental-health issues in sports and has tried to assert herself as a leader for track athletes, many of whom have long felt underpaid and under-appreciated. Mostly, though, she is a lightning rod. Her story serves as a litmus test for fans of a sport that has struggled to retain global relevance since Usain Bolt exited six years ago.
When Richardson, with her orange hair flowing behind her, streaked across the finish line first at Olympic trials in 2021, the sport appeared on the cusp of welcoming a new, colourful star. Her positive test for marijuana quashed those hopes, then sparked an intense debate about whether she was being unfairly singled out for taking a substance that doesn’t improve performance.
Ultimately, the administrators who write the anti-doping rulebook kept marijuana on the banned list, saying its use cut against the spirit of sport. It’s a stance that places Olympic sports in a different light than American pro leagues, which generally have much looser regulations on marijuana use.
Richardson, who was vocal about the depression she felt after the loss of her mother in 2021, took more than 12 months to recover her form on the track after missing the Olympics. When she reemerged earlier this year, she could be found on social media, trying to engage US athletes to band together to fight for improved working conditions.
Let’s “sit down and actually come up with a strategy as athletes to create a voice for ourselves,” Richardson implored her fellow athletes in a post from earlier this summer.
It goes without saying that her platform is bigger if she lands on podiums, and that is happening more frequently these days. Much was made of Jackson running her world-leading 10.65 at the Jamaican championships only a day after Richardson had, herself, set the standard for 2023 with a 10.71 at her own country’s nationals.
That, plus Richardson’s status as a rookie on the world’s biggest stage, could play into why she is listed as only the fourth favorite to win the 100, at 9-2, behind Jackson, Ta Lou and Fraser-Pryce, who dealt with a knee injury this spring but ran 10.82 last month.
And yet, so many eyes will be on the American. When she beat Jackson to the line by .02 seconds at a Diamond League race in Poland last month, Richardson sounded ready for what is to come — over the next week, and potentially the next year.
“I just want to keep lining up, keep perfecting my craft and keep going,” she said.
By Eddie Pells