Whether watching from Jamaica, Japan or the US, it was hard to miss the shock of flowing, orange hair that came streaking across the finish line first in Eugene, Oregon, on Saturday night.
It belonged to Sha’Carri Richardson. After the eye-opening show she put on at the US Olympic trials — blowing away the field in the 100m semi-finals in a wind-aided 10.64 seconds, then again in the final in 10.86 seconds — she figures to grab her fair share of attention next month in Tokyo.
With her performance, the 21-year-old out of Louisiana State University picked up a spot in the Olympics and a national title, while also setting up a possible showdown with the Jamaican world champion, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who is also well-known for colorful hairstyles.
“It’s loud and encouraging, and honestly dangerous,” Richardson said when asked why she chose the color orange for her big night. “Knowing I’m coming to one of the biggest meets there is, if you’re going to go out there and be the best, you need to look the best.”
Crossing the finish line first was only the second-best feeling of the night, she said. The best came when she climbed halfway up the stands at Hayward Field and shared a long hug with her grandmother, Betty Harp, who is also known in the family as “Big Momma.”
“To be able to have her here at the biggest meet in my life, and to cross the finish line and run up the steps to hug her, knowing I’m an Olympian, actually that’s probably better than winning the race,” Richardson said.
An over-the-limit tailwind in the semis prevented the 10.64 seconds from becoming official, leaving Richardson only 0.01 seconds behind Fraser-Pryce’s top time of the year. The world record of 10.49 seconds was set by Florence Griffith Joyner in 1988.
“She carries such a firecracker,” Richardson’s training partner, Justin Gatlin, said. “She’s capable of running 10.6 [seconds]. I’ve seen her at practice, and she’s capable of running 10.5 [seconds], actually. She can definitely shock the world.”
In the final, Richardson overcame a slow start to pass her training partner, Javianne Oliver, a 60m indoor specialist who started in the lane next to her. Richardson beat Oliver by three body lengths and 0.13 seconds. Teahna Daniels finished third.
“It’s surreal to put together a full race,” Oliver said. “The 60, I had it. The last 40, I didn’t. I’ve been working on putting those two together, and it came together today.”
While Richardson’s blazing speed made her close to a sure thing in the women’s 100m, the men’s sprint was nowhere near as settled.
The race for the three Olympic spots in their crowded 100m could be the best battle of the meet.
They ran their qualifying heat on Saturday, and all the “big” names made it through. That includes Fred Kerley, whose main distance is the 400m, but who made the 100m more interesting when, on the heels of a 9.91-second performance earlier this season, he decided to be a short sprinter for this Olympic cycle.
“The bigger plan is still 400m for the next coming years,” Kerley said. “Right now, I’m focusing on getting everything correct and getting up my speed up so I can make history.”
He made it through his heat, and now Gatlin (the former Olympic and world champion), Trayvon Bromell (this year’s world leader at 9.77 seconds) and star-in-the-making Noah Lyles, whose chances are more secure in the 200m, have something to worry about as they approached yesterday’s finals.
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