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Women in Sport

22nd Aug 2023

The inimitable story of Sha’Carri Richardson, the fastest woman in the world

Niall McIntyre

Sha’Carri Richardson capped a remarakable comeback on Monday evening by becoming World 100m sprint champion.

One of the biggest personalities in track and field, the American sprinter has seen it all over the last couple of years – a marijuana ban in the build-up to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, a 2022 that saw her fall off the face of the earth, in sprinting terms at least – but now she’s back.

Now she’s the sprint queen, having beaten an incredibly stacked field to win her first world title in a championship record time.

It really is all duck or no dinner for the 23-year-old.

She didn’t even compete in last year’s World Championships, having failed to reach the finals at the US trials.

Skip on a year and she’s dazzling in the Budapest heat, lighting up the Hungary National Athletics Centre with the fifth fastest sprint ever.

Richardson was typically (relatively) slow out of the blocks on Monday night, trailling Jamaicans Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Shericka Jackson in the early stages, but from lane nine she finished like a train to spoil the Jamaican party.

And not uncharacteristically, she celebrated wildly crossing the finish line.

To understand the hype that surrounds Richardson, you must first go back to 2021.

The Dallas, Texas native had the world at her feet that summer when, as a 21-year-old, she blazed through the US Olympic trials.

But having been the first name on the American teamsheet, she was soon kicked off the list having failed a USADA test in the days that followed, testing positive for marijuana.

Richardson later explained in an interview with Today that she used marijuana to cope with the death of her biological mother, something she was only made aware of by a “complete stranger” of a reporter.

“When it comes to the relationship I have with my mother, it definitely was a very heavy topic on me,” she told Today.

The sprinter had been abandoned by her mother at a young age and the weight of these struggles, unsurprisingly, have shadowed her life.

A bubbly and often spiky presence in post-race interviews, Richardson has spoken openly about her mental health problems which, back in high school, led to an attempt to take her own life.

So to come from there to here, you can’t but be impressed. But Richardson still has her many critics.

An athlete who regularly clashes with the press over the pronunciation of her first name – she goes by Shaqiri (the same as former Liverpool player Xherdan) and pulls you up for saying anything else – Richardson runs under the tutelage Dennis Mitchell.

He is one of the most controversial coaches in the game having served a highly documented drugs ban as an athlete himself.

Richardson began this year having been kicked off American Airlines flight in January due to an altercation with an attendant. There is also said to be very little love lost between Richardson and her Jamaican sprint rivals.

But she won the grudge-game last night.

“My coach, my family, supporters, and haters – all of their motivation has brought me to this moment,” she said last night. “It helped me prevail. It helped me overcome.”

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