Sha’Carri Richardson Is Locked In

Nearing her long-awaited Olympic debut, the sprinter is tuning out the critics and inspiring the next generation of athletes.

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Let’s set the record straight: Sha’Carri Richardson isn’t in her comeback era. Far from it, in fact. She’s spent the past three years training, competing and cementing her name in the history books. Her forthcoming Olympic debut in Paris may be a long time coming, but it certainly isn’t a rebound for Richardson, who has already been crowned the fastest woman in the world.

Richardson’s story first set the track and field industry ablaze in 2021. At the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon, she ran the 100-meter dash in 10.86 seconds, positioning the US as a contender for a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. Weeks later, it was revealed that Richardson had tested positive for THC, which, although legal in the state of Oregon, is prohibited by both the USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) and WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency). She was issued a 30-day suspension and her qualifying times were wiped from the record. Richardson’s disqualification incited a public debate on what was widely considered an archaic set of rules with figures like Patrick Mahomes, Odell Beckham Jr. and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez weighing in on the issue. At the same time, she was privately grieving the loss of her mother, who had passed away a week before the Trials. “I apologize for the fact that I didn’t know how to control my emotions or deal with my emotions during that time,” Richardson said in an apology to fans in the aftermath. “Who am I to tell you how to cope? Who am I to tell you you’re wrong for hurting?”

Few professional athletes in recent history have been subject to the degree of scrutiny that Richardson has endured. And yet, since it all went down, she’s only gotten faster and stronger — both physically and mentally. At the 2023 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in July, she won the 100m dash with a time of 10.82 seconds. Advancing to that year’s World Athletics Championships the following month, Richardson ran the same race in a record 10.65 seconds, securing her first world title and a #1 global ranking in the event. Over the course of her ascent, she’s been championed as an inspiration to young athletes for being unapologetically herself and demonstrating that mistakes don’t have to define you or your career.

“It’s definitely humbling for me to know that someone may look at me and feel inspired to do more,” she says. “If they see me and think ‘I could do that,’ it makes me all the more incentivized to continue to do it for myself.”

At 24 years old, Richardson is still at the start of her career, though the past few years have been something of an accelerated exercise in learning to tune out the critics. The athlete says that focusing on herself and her close ones has helped to relieve some of the pressure that comes with competing at the international level, including the mounting expectations for her to win gold in Paris.

“I’ve created my own type of environment where I’m locked in on a day to day.”

“I’ve created my own type of environment where I’m locked in on a day to day,” Richardson says. “With my family and my friends, I’m in this bubble and I don’t have to worry about the outside stuff getting in. It’s easy to maintain that motivation and focus.”

Ahead of Paris 2024 – where she’ll likely compete in 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay, pending qualification after the Trials – Richardson trains five days a week and rests the other two. Recovery is central to her routine and after hours, she spends the majority of her time at home with her family, reading and listening to audiobooks. She also recently became the first female athlete to star in a Sprite campaign when she led a recent “Obey Your Thirst” spot, carrying the torch for previous stars like LeBron James and Grant Hill. The shoot was an especially poignant moment as the video features her aunt and grandmother alongside her at the dinner table.

Richardson is quietly confident when speaking, a different side of her then the tenacity she exudes on the track and in some of her recent fashion campaigns. The runner was tapped to serve as the face of Nike’s collaboration with French label JACQUEMUS, modeling its new apparel line and leather Swoosh bag. It’s a fitting collaboration, as she’s emerged as a style icon within the sport, often being likened to late runner Florence Griffith Joyner (better known as Flo-Jo) for her long hair and nails.

At the USATF Championships, Richardson pulled off her signature bright orange wig as her name was called and threw it aside, revealing her braids underneath. In other races, she’s worn gemstones stuck to her face and even a mesh bodysuit under her uniform. Driving her style choices is what Richardson describes as “a sense of freedom.”

“I want my outfits to reflect how I feel but I also want to show that being or doing something different is okay. I really just wear whatever I want.”

Whether through fashion, cultural commentary or her on-track accomplishment, Richardson’s immense impact isn’t lost on her. A track at the Jesse Owens Athletic Complex in Dallas was named after her last year. The runner recalls that the very track was in fact the first one she ever practiced on, making it a touching full-circle moment.

“It truly gives me a sense of responsibility and pride and a sense of awareness,” she says of the occasion. “We’re all humans, and to just be able to look at each other and relate or just feed off one another’s energy is one of my biggest missions.”

Looking ahead to this summer, Richardson is poised to not only make the US team following the Trials in June but also an odds-on favorite for the podium come August. The runner, true to nature, is reluctant to voice any predictions for her standing at the upcoming Olympics – she’ll let her performance on the track speak for itself.

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