Deji Ogeyinbgo wrote this piece on one of the most popular athletes in our global sport, Sha’Carri Richardson, and her focus was on the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Sha’Carri Richardson coldly won the world title. Now, her destiny is to become the Olympic Champion.

Sha’Carri Richardson should have been down and out.

After an arduous period between 2021 and 2022, it took 10.65s for the American to get back to the top of the world. She came full circle in Budapest when she won the women’s 100m at last year’s world championships- a race with four of the fastest women of all time, including her. But she came within whiskers of it all not happening.

The United States had earnestly yearned for a marquee female sprinter that would challenge the prowess of the Jamaicans at both the world and Olympic levels. In the last decade, a few sprinters have popped up on the scene to take up that mantle, but they haven’t been able to sustain the momentum. Then came Richardson.

Sha’Carri Richardson, 100m,
USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships held at Hayward Field, University of Oregon, June 23-26, 2022, photo by Kevin Morris

Missing the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 and not qualifying for the 2022 World Championships on home soil greatly affected Richardson’s prospects and career. The one precocious athlete touted as the next big thing needed to make a statement on the track last year. She emphatically answered her critics.

Richardson came away with two gold medals and a bronze medal in Budapest, but in the 100m, she proved her mettle about not being a flash in the pan. How she navigated those phases leading up to Budapest is one of brilliance. The statement she uttered at the US Trials about not just being back but better had run its entire course as she eventually became the world champion.

Richardson raced with a purpose, driven by the desire to carve out a path to her future and etch her name in history. In her pursuit, she faced formidable competitors in Shericka Jackson and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, both formidable athletes in their own right. The latter has been the epitome of longevity Americans craved. Undeterred by the challenge before her, Richardson approached the race with a brutal, cold, and calculating mindset, leaving no room for hesitation or doubt.

Sha’Carri Richardson, USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix
Gold Label track & field meet
May 26, 2023, Los Angeles, USA, photo by Kevin Morris

There are three things worth saying about Richardson. The first, often overlooked, is how honest she is. There is so much rhetoric about how the modern-day athlete should look and what they say. She always wears her heart on her sleeves. It might be a problem for the media, but the fans love her regardless.

“You bring who you are onto the track. You bring your athlete into your life,” Richardson said when asked about her most significant victory during a live chat on Instagram (via CBS News). I just know that people know me not just as an athlete but as a person. There is no separate, honestly.”

Secondly, she is a highly gifted sprinter, an attribute many seem to forget because of her activism on and off the track. It has become the whole package, so a large percentage of Gen Z’s relate with her.

Sha’Carri Richardson, USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships held at Hayward Field, University of Oregon, July 6-10, 2023, photo by Kevin Morris

Her most significant quality through all this has been a warrior level of mental toughness. Despite facing criticism and scrutiny, often rooted in stereotypes and prejudices commonly directed towards black athletes in the United States, Richardson has defied expectations and proven herself to be incredibly resilient.

Despite distractions and sometimes unfair portrayals, including discussions of ostentatious sinks and perceptions of flashiness and weakness, Richardson has emerged as a shining example of toughness and perseverance. In an ironic twist, the criticisms levied against her have only served to highlight her unwavering strength of character. Richardson’s resilience and determination exemplify her ability to overcome adversity and thrive in the face of challenges, challenging stereotypes and redefining perceptions within the world of athletics.

Sha’Carri Richardson, USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships held at Hayward Field, University of Oregon, July 6-10, 2023, photo by Kevin Morris

In February 2022, Richardson reflected on her suspension and the challenges faced as a Black woman in sports, emphasizing the importance of self-love in navigating adversity. “That entire situation taught me to look into myself and to see that I have to be grounded because do you see how fast they flip?” she shared with Teen Vogue, highlighting the tendency for perceptions of individuals, particularly Black women, to change abruptly in the face of mistakes.

“It almost seems like we must be superheroes,” Richardson continued. “It’s just irritating because you take away the abilities, the speed, the talent … and we’re still human.” These poignant words underscore the unfair burden placed on Black athletes to transcend their humanity and embody unattainable standards despite facing the same vulnerabilities and challenges as everyone else.

Sha’Carri Richardson, World Athletics Championships
Budapest, Hungary
August 19-27, 2023, photo by Kevin Morris

Next up for Richardson is the Olympic title. This would be her first rodeo. Due to her one-month suspension from Team USA and subsequent disqualification from the June 2021 Olympic trials following a positive test for THC, Richardson was regrettably unable to compete in Tokyo. Still only 24, Paris offers her another chance at redemption.

It’s what she has dreamt about achieving. So much will be on the line in the capital of fashion. Eight women will grace the final with different storylines and plots. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the top three from Budapest will be there. The reigning champion, Elaine Thompson-Herah, will be hoping to defend her title. Fraser-Pryce will go for one final dance. Marie Josee Ta-Lou and Julien Alfred will be looking for firsts for Africa and the Caribbean Island. So much will be on the line.

Sha’Carri Richardson, photo by Kevin Morris

Aside from the intrinsic motivation for Richardson to continue to build her legacy, the US has not had an Olympic champion in the 100m since Gail Devers won the title in 1996. She wasn’t even born then.

Richardson has drawn comparisons to the late three-time Olympic gold medalist Florence Griffith Joyner (commonly known as “Flo-Jo”) due to her remarkable track speed and flamboyant style. Richardson acknowledged these comparisons by posting two photos of the track legend on her Instagram account in June 2019.

Women’s 4x100m relay, World Athletics Championships
Budapest, Hungary
August 19-27, 2023, photo by Kevin Morris

In the caption, Richardson addressed the attention her hair and nails received, reminding her followers that even the legendary Flo-Jo competed with style. By doing so, Richardson highlighted the importance of embracing one’s style and individuality in athletics, challenging traditional norms, and celebrating diversity within the sport.

Sha’Carri Richardson won the 100m for the US for the first time since 2017. Photo by Getty Images for World Athletics.

With Paris four months away, it’s looking more like this is her destiny. Even some of the best in history have had setbacks from which they’ve bounced off. It’s what makes them great in the first place. Richardson is on the verge. A win in Paris will cement it.

ShaCarri Richardson, 2023 Nike Pre Classic, photo by Brian K. Eder/RunBlogRun

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