It’s not like Sha’Carri Richardson didn’t warn us.
“This sport been quiet for too long,” the sprinter tweeted on June 7.
Translation: Richardson, the 22-year-old lightning rod, the fastest female American sprinter in more than a decade, was about to get loud on and off the track.
In the ensuing days and weeks Richardson has taken on the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and NBC’s “Today Show” on social media, and solidified her position as the world’s fastest fashion statement by showing up at the USA Track & Field New York Grand Prix suited up in a feet-to-shoulders red fishnet body suit beneath a hot pink uniform unzipped in front somewhere between PG-13 and R, a bejeweled forehead between long flowing blonde locks and multi-diamond studded lobes.
“That’s me always standing out no matter my performance, no matter what the media or what other people have to say, I’m expressing myself and showing people no matter how the company, media, people may try to limit you, always stand by your truth,” Richardson told reporters after the meet. “So I express that by what I wear.
“It’s not about just running fast. It’s about being who I am and you can be anything to anybody.”
Richardson arrives at the USA Track & Field Championships this week in Eugene as both the sport’s most recognizable and most polarizing athlete.
The 22-year-old Texan in the past year has inspired talk that she could take down Florence Griffith-Joyner’s nearly quarter-century old world 100-meter record of 10.49 seconds. And she has exasperated the sport by testing positive for marijuana at last June’s Olympic Trials resulting in a 30-day suspension that prevented her from competing in the Olympic Games.
The suspension was followed by a series of high profile social media skirmishes and an expletive laced interview on national television after finishing dead last in her first race after the doping ban was lifted.
“Sha’Carri’s such a firecracker,” said Justin Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic 100-meter champion and Richardson’s former training partner.
To others, she’s a time bomb equally capable of touching off an international controversy as she is clocking a mind blowing time.
“The only reason I’m on social media is to see what she’s posting,” Renaldo Nehemiah, Richardson’s agent, acknowledged to reporters after the New York meet.
To her friends and fans, she is a heroine for and of her times whose outspokenness resonates with many who feel they haven’t been heard; a misunderstood superstar whose thoughtfulness and empathy are hidden beneath brash and loud protective shell.“That’s my little M&M,” Gatlin said. “She’s very hard on the outside but a big ol’ soft teddy bear on the inside.”
For others she is an obnoxious, profane self-promoter, too quick to shoot from the lip, too quick to hit tweet; a rube ready to take on the world but yet not realizing who she’s up against.
“She didn’t know who Max Siegel is” until earlier this month, Nehemiah admitted. Siegel is the CEO of USA Track & Field, the sport’s national governing body.
“Her fans who love that she’s a champion for them because she’s kind of the voice of the voiceless who don’t have the power to say what they want to mean for whatever reasons,” continued Nehemiah, the former world record-holder in the 110-meter high hurdles. “And she says it without making excuses. So they’re like, and I’ve heard people (say) ‘I feel that way. She just spoke for me.’ So that’s why these people gravitate” toward her.
“Then you have the others, how you have this female, black female of all things, be this brash and arrogant because that’s usually reserved for guys. It’s more acceptable for guys. So now you have this next Flo Jo with a voice, not just a flair, and they go, ‘Whoa! What is that?’ And it’s not an act, that’s who that person is
“So there will be a group that feels a certain way about it and there will be a group that just loves it.
“Well if you don’t like it, don’t watch her.”
But Richardson is too hard to ignore.
What other 21-year-old Olympic athlete has been brought up in a presidential interview as Richardson was last summer?
President Joe Biden said he was “really proud of the way” she responded to her doping suspension but added, “The rules are the rules.”
And what other sprinter has had a documentary about them premiere at the Sundance Film Festival?
“Sub Eleven Seconds” was directed by Bafic, a British filmmaker and photographer who has worked with Louis Vuitton, Gucci, designer Kiko Kostadinov, and singer Neneh Cherry. It was produced by the late fashion designer Virgil Abloh.
One of the film’s most poignant moments comes from Dennis Mitchell, Richardson’s coach and a former Olympic medal-winning sprinter.
“Everything she’s been through,” Mitchell said, “everything that has happened to her in her life, whether it has been good or bad, all comes out in that ten-second period.”
And there’s a lot to unpack.
“Time is my blessing,” Richardson said in the film “and my curse. On the track, I’ve been blessed to run fast. Off-the-track, time has cheated me. You don’t know when something or someone will be taken away from you.”
Richardson was born in Dallas and raised by her grandmother Betty Harp after she was abandoned as a young child by her biological mother who was struggling with addiction and mental health issues at the time.
Richardson also struggled with mental health issues in high school and at LSU, where she won the NCAA 100 title and set World Under-20 records at 100 and 200 meters. She turned pro after her freshman season, signing with Nike.
In April 2021, she ran 10.72 at a meet in Florida, history’s sixth-fastest time, shouting, “I am who I say I am!” as she crossed the finish line.
The race sparked widespread talk within the sport of Richardson not only being the first American woman to win the Olympic 100 title since 1996 but to threaten Griffith-Joyner’s world record, a mark generally believed to be the beneficiary of a faulting wind reading at the 1988 Olympic Trials.
But Richardson’s Olympic ambitions were derailed after a urine sample she provided during a post-race drug test following her Olympic Trials 100 victory last June 19 tested positive for cannabis.
Richardson admitted using marijuana after learning her biological mother had died that week.
The controversy touched off calls for the World Anti-Doping Agency and USADA to change their rules regarding cannabis. Biden was among those calling for the anti-doping agencies and governing bodies to reconsider their policies. The suspension also seemed hypocritical to many given that recreational cannabis use is legal in Oregon. There are at least 14 businesses that sell cannabis products within a six-minute drive of Hayward Field, American track and field’s most iconic stadium, according to potguide.com.
“I am human,” Richardson tweeted shortly after the suspension was announced.
Richardson later told Savannah Guthrie on NBC’s “Today Show,” “I know what I did and what I’m not supposed to do,” she said. “I know what I’m not allowed to do and I still made that decision. Not making an excuse or looking for any empathy … but being in that position of my life and finding out something like that … that definitely was a heavy topic.”
The sprinter tweeted an image from the interview this week saying she wished she “never did this.”
“I wish I had the choice when it was time for me to tell my story,” Richardson said. She did not elaborate on why she regretted the interview.
But it is another Richardson interview with NBC that had much of the sport cringing.
In a much hyped showdown with Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson-Herah and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, winners of the last four Olympic 100 and 200 gold medals, at the Prefontaine Classic last August, Richardson finished last in a field of nine, well behind Thompson-Herah’s 10.54, the second fastest clocking in history.
“This is one race. I’m not done,” Richardson said in a trackside NBC interview after the race. “You know what I’m capable of. Count me out if you want me to. Talk all the (expletive) you want, because I’m here to stay. I’m not done. And nobody can ever take that from me.”
Some like Gatlin argue that Richardson is just getting started. Gatlin said Richardson has recently run faster than Griffith-Joyner’s world record in training.
“She comes through, boop 10.5’s, boop 10.3’s,” Gatlin said on the “I AM ATHLETE” podcast. “You know what I mean, that’s smashing the world record that Flo-Jo put together.”
In competition, Richardson has re-emerged as the leading threat to Thompson-Herah and Fraser-Pryce at next month’s World Championships in Eugene. She ran 10.92 to finish second to Thompson-Herah in an Olympic-caliber field at the Pre Classic last month, then ran 10.82 and 10.73, both wind-aided, in Florida on June 4. She narrowly lost to American Aleia Hobbs at the New York Grand Prix–wind legal 10.83 to 10.85 — and then came back to win the 200.
Off the track, she has continued to be at the center of controversy.
Richardson last month on social media accused Jamaican athlete Janeek Brown, her former partner, of abusing her.
“I was in a relationship with a Jamaican athlete that never cared about me from jump,” Richardson said. “I was abused and stole from yet protected her from the judgment of her country and family while they dragged me. I had to deal with [homophobia] and so much more that I’m still healing from.”
Brown later acknowledged physically abusing Richardson.
“I feel like it’s my responsibility to show the real needs, what’s unsaid in the sport, what needs to be said is just showing (young fans) that you can be who you are as long as your mindset, your intentions are pure,” Richardson said. “Don’t let the media, don’t let people, don’t let a company try to stop you from shining. Because you are sunshine. We are the light.”
A few feet away a growing group of young fans chanted her name.
“Sha’Carri! Sha’Carri! Sha’Carri!”
“I just want them to know to do it in their way,” Richardson said turning toward the fans. “Don’t let the limitations of the world stop you because the world has its own faults.”
Source: Orange County Register