Sha’Carri Richardson purposefully stared down the Heyward Field track in Eugene, Oregon on Sunday evening as she settled into the starting blocks in lane 5. The 21-year-old LSU product, the 2019 NCAA women’s 100-meter champion, exuded confidence and certainty, as if it was a foregone conclusion that her dream of making the U.S. Olympic team was about to be realized.
With Richardson’s flowing orange hair seemingly obeying her command to remain motionless, an anticipatory silence permeated the stadium before she exploded at the sound of the starter’s gun, arms pumping and legs churning. Javianne Oliver, one of Richardson’s training partners, assumed the early lead directly to her left in lane 4. But midway through the race, the favorite to win the event at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team Trials, hit her top speed, relaxing as she took a lead that would not be relinquished.
As Richardson crossed the finish line in 10.86, ahead of the second-place finisher Oliver, who clocked 10.99, the Dallas, Texas native unleashed unbridled joy. She was headed to Tokyo next month as one of the world’s hottest sprinters, determined to win an individual gold medal and wrest the Jamaican women’s dominance in the Olympic100-meters.
Along with Richardson and Oliver, a 26-year-old University of Kentucky alumna, Teahna Daniels, 24, who competed collegiately for the University of Texas, earned one of the three spots to represent the U.S. by securing third place in a time of 11.03. An American woman has not officially captured gold in the Olympic 100-meters since Gail Devers in 1996. Devers also stood atop the podium in 1992. Marion Jones’ 2000 gold was stripped due to her use of performance enhancing drugs.
For the past three Olympics, Jamaica has reigned supreme, with Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce winning in 2008 and 2012, and Elaine Thompson the 2016 titlist. Now Elaine Thompson-Herah after getting married in 2019, the 28-year-old will be in Japan to try to make it two in a row. However, Fraser-Pryce, 34, has emerged as the leading contender after blazing 10.63 in Kingston, Jamaica earlier this month, the fourth fastest women’s time ever behind Florence Griffith Joyner’s 10.49, 10.61 and 10.62, all achieved in 1988.
Richardson dismissed any notions others have about her emulating the charismatic Joyner, who won gold in the 100-meters, 200-meters and 4×100 relay at the 1988 Olympics, and tragically passed away in her sleep from an epileptic seizure in 1998 at the age of 38. “I don’t want to be the next FloJo,” she maintained. “I want to be the first Sha’Carri.” It was an emotional victory for Richardson, who afterwards revealed her biological mother had passed away last week.
“This year has been crazy for me,” said said. “I’m still here. Last week, finding out my biological mother passed away, and still choosing to pursue my dreams, still coming out here, still here to make the family that I do still have on this earth proud. And the fact [is] nobody knows what I go through.”
In the men’s 100-meters, 25-year-old Trayvon Bromell, a former Baylor University standout, defeated a formidable field, registering 10.80 ahead of Ronnie Baker (10.85) and Fred Kerley. At 39, Brooklyn born Justin Gatlin, the 2004 men’s Olympic 100-meter champion and the silver medalist at the 2019 World Championships, fell short in a bid to make the team. An achy hamstring caused Gatlin to ease up at about 50-meters and end the race in last place in 10.87.