American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson capped her comeback with a gold medal on Monday at the world championships in the longest 100-meter race this side of the Olympics, two years after testing positive for marijuana.
The 23-year-old’s victory in 10.65 seconds over Jamaica’s Shericka Jackson and five-time world champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce capped a two-year comeback and put into practice the mantra she recited all year – and repeated again after his last victory: “I’m not back. I’m the best.’
Two summers ago, after the Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon, Richardson’s road to the Tokyo Games was blocked by a positive test for marijuana.
His name has turned into a litmus test in a vast debate about race, fairness, often inscrutable anti-doping regulations and, ultimately, the sometimes very thin line between right and wrong.
Richardson said she absorbed it all, surrounded herself with supporters, tried to drown out the rest. “I would say ‘never give up,'” she said when asked what message this victory sends.
Sha’Carri Richardson won the women’s 100 meters final at the World Championships in Athletics
Richardson wins the race after finishing the race 0.07 seconds ahead of the next runner
She posed with silver medalist Shericka Jackson and bronze medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce
“Never allow the media, never allow strangers, never allow anything other than yourself and your faith to define who you are. I would say “Always fight. No matter what, fight.”
For this victory, in a peloton comprising four of the eight fastest sprinters in history, she fought.
She struggled when the vagaries of track regulations placed her in the so-called “death semi-final,” paired against Jackson and Marie-Josée Ta Lou, who placed fifth and eighth overall. the times, in a race where only the best two finishers were guaranteed to participate in the final.
In that semi, Richardson got off to a miserable start and had to climb from seventh place to third in 10.84. Her time was the fastest among all non-qualifiers, so she qualified for the final.
Just 70 minutes later, she was lining up on the edge of the track in lane 9 for the gold medal sprint, as difficult a place as there is because there is no way to feel how top contenders – or anyone, really – do.
It made no difference. Although she had the third slowest start in the field, no one got too far ahead. Ultimately, it was a race between her and Jackson. Jackson drove through and, unable to keep up with what Richardson was doing on the outside so far, looked up at the scoreboard as if she could have won.
But Richardson beat her by 0.07 seconds, Fraser-Pryce by 0.12 and Ta Lou by 0.16. The 10.65 was a world championship record – Florence Griffith-Joyner’s 35-year-old world record of 10.49 still stands – and tied Jackson for the best time in the world this year.
Although Richardson finished 2-0 against Jackson in head-to-head clashes this year, she was still a 5-1 underdog in the race – in part because she was a world championship rookie against a peloton that had amassed 38 Olympic and World Championship medals between them.
Richardson posed next to his time while holding the American flag after his victory
She lined up on the edge of the track in lane 9 for the gold medal sprint on Monday
The new champion looked stunned after crossing the finish line. She blew a kiss skyward, cast her eyes over that beautiful scoreboard, and made her way to the stands in a daze to accept the American flag and congratulations from Fraser-Pryce, Dina Asher-Smith of Grande -Britain and others.
“All the big hitters were going to bring their ‘A’ game, so that helped me put out my best ‘A’ game as well,” Richardson said. “I am next to living legends. It’s amazing.
Richardson looked set to become America’s next sprint star when, with her orange hair flowing behind her, she clinched a Trials victory two years ago. But that victory quickly went off the books after she tested positive for marijuana – a doping violation she readily admitted, saying she was in a bad place after her mother’s recent death.
A heated debate – much of which erupted on social media – ensued over whether marijuana, not a performance enhancer, really belonged on the banned list (it still does), but also whether regulators were too eager to pick on a young, outspoken, black, American woman (they said everyone is subject to the same rules).
Richardson tumbled for a while, both off and on. She finished ninth in her highly publicized return from suspension at the Préfontaine Classic in 2021. Last year, she did not make the world championship squad.
“A year ago she was in no man’s land, not to make the team,” said her agent, former hurdler Renaldo Nehemiah.
“And then coming back and finally finding your happy place, which is on the track, and not trying to compete with negative influences. I personally told him, ‘You’ll never win this battle on your best day.’
Late last summer, Richardson bared her soul during a live social media chat, urging people to find their true selves, much like she had.
Richardson received congratulations from Fraser-Pryce and Dina Asher-Smith (right)
Richardson – pictured crossing the line, left – beat second-placed Jackson by 0.07 seconds
With that message sent, she set about fixing things on the trail.
But when asked after her biggest victory what exactly she corrected, whether on or off the track, she didn’t talk about technique, speed or tactics.
“You bring who you are to the track. You bring your athlete into your life,” she said. “I just know that people know me not only as an athlete, but as a person. There is no separation, honestly.
“So I’m happy to be able to show who I really am. Not my pain. Not my sadness. I’m happy to be able to sit here and be happy at home, and know that it all paid off.