Burning up the track each time she steps foot on it, Sha’Carri Richardson is intent on making a statement in every race, and the young sprint sensation finds herself in the enviable position of 100m gold medal favourite in this Olympic year.
The 21-year-old American is a relatively new name in the sport, and while the world has been forced to slow down of late, Richardson has blasted into consciousness with a series of eye-popping performances, solidifying her status as the woman to watch before the summer’s Tokyo Olympic Games.
She scorched to a 10.72-second 100m last month to become the sixth fastest woman in history, then backed that run up with times of 10.74 and 10.77 on the same day in California earlier this month.
“I wasn’t expecting to run so fast so early on in the season so I’m excited by what’s to come,” said Richardson.
Following a 200m victory in Ostrava this week on her European competitive debut, the world junior 100m and 200m record holder is now on UK shores for the first time as she prepares to compete at Sunday’s Grand Prix at the Gateshead International Stadium.
Billed as a rehearsal for the Olympic 100m final, Richardson is set to face two-time Olympic and six-time world sprint champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica and Britain’s 200m world champion Dina Asher-Smith in the season-opening Diamond League meeting.
“I’m excited to be here and I’m ready to run fast,” she said. “It’s a shame about the weather but it won’t be an excuse to impact my race – I want to put on a show.”
Richardson’s flamboyant appearance has also attracted attention.
“I like showing my style as I know that if I look good, I feel and perform good,” said the Texan.
“I like to express myself on the track and be unique – you can be stylish as well as fast. The hair, nails and tattoos show who I am; you have to invest in how you look but it’s all about talent on the start line.”
Another of her passions is her desire to inspire the black community.
“I use my platform to speak about the Black Lives Matters movement. I’m a proud black woman who knows her history, that’s a big part of all this for me,” she said.
“It’s so important for me to show generations to come that the black community can do big things and just be who they are after generations of suppression and overcoming the circumstances of our ancestors. I want to be a part of black history.”
The next step in her plan to create history will come on her senior international championship debut in Japan in July – and nothing less than Olympic glory will do.
“I will be excited to represent my country in Tokyo and despite the [Covid restrictions] issues, I see it as just another meet, though it’s the ultimate meet,” said Richardson.
“I mentally stayed ready throughout [the pandemic], and fingers crossed, I make it through the trials. I want that beautiful gold Olympic medal round my neck. To have that at such a young age and at this early stage of my career would show me this is what I was made to do.”
Such performances while barely out of her teen years have raised inevitable questions about her ability to eclipse the 33-year-old world record of 10.49, held by her idol and late compatriot Florence Griffith-Joyner, the three-time Olympic champion.
“Flo-Jo is my idol – she brought a different mindset to the game,” explained Richardson. “The world record will take a different level of training and mindset – that goal is definitely part of the journey but I know I have to be patient.”
With great success comes great pressure and expectation but evidently revelling in the spotlight, Richardson has no intention of slowing down any time soon.
“Being the fastest woman in the world right now gives me confidence but it also makes me aware that I have a target on my back. I can’t let my mind get too comfortable,” she said.
“My position drives me to work harder, as I want to stay on top. I’ve always dreamed of being able to leave a legacy, to keep my name known for a long time and hopefully I can do that.” (BBC)