Budapest World Championships: Sha’Carri Richardson's back, and she's better
By winning the women's 100m gold, the young American made a statement in more ways than one
Sha’Carri Richardson stood for the 100m final of USA’s national championships last month wearing an orange wig, much like she did for the heats and for a large part of her early sprint career influenced by the late Florence Griffith-Joyner. As her name was announced and cameras panned to her, she pulled the wig off and flung it behind. She then surged ahead, won the final and sealed a spot for the Budapest World Championships.
Explaining her wig-throwing action, Richardson said in an interview that she wanted to show everyone “I’m still that girl but I’m better. I’m still that girl but I’m stronger. I’m still that girl but I’m wiser”.
She's still that girl but a world champion.
The 23-year-old, her hair neatly braided with a dash of colour still sprinkled on Monday night in Budapest, made a dazzling Worlds debut with a sizzling women’s 100m run of 10.65s — the fastest time in the competition — for gold. The American's first major medal broke Jamaica's dominance in the event — they had swept the podium in Eugene last year and won five of the last seven world titles — and pushed Jamaicans Shericka Jackson (10.72) and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (10.77), chasing a record sixth individual crown, to silver and bronze, respectively.
That she did it from the outer lane 9 was incredible, pipping Jackson and Fraser-Pryce running on the inside with a breathtaking acceleration towards the end. That she did it coming off a stuttering semifinal — Richardson, in third place (10.84), needed the non-automatic spots to pull her through to the final — was incredible. That she did it after a couple of years of being in the wilderness to give American sprint — US men and women took the 100m world title for the first time since 2017 — another wonder story was incredible.
The Dallas-born Richardson’s sprint journey, both as a performer and a personality, had a towering inspiration in American legend Griffith-Joyner; in 2021, US Vogue labelled her as the “Flo-Jo of our time”. The outspoken Richardson would colour her hair bright, wear wigs, sport extended fingernails and eyelashes. That invariably invited some scepticism from the outside world, but the young American, shown the way by her idol, could not care less.
“Flo-Jo came to the track and knew she was going to dominate. The way she did that was graceful. I always liked that,” Richardson was quoted as saying by the Associated Press in 2021. “If the amazing Flo-Jo had long nails, there was no excuse why I couldn’t have long nails.”
The throwing of the wig, therefore, was significant -- less an attention-grabbing gimmick and more a gesture of her evolution over the last couple of years.
In June 2021, Richardson announced her watch-out-for-me breakthrough in world athletics by winning the 100m US Olympic trials with a time of 10.86, months after clocking 10.72 (it was then the sixth-fastest women’s 100m time in history). The Tokyo Games, and a possible career-defining first Olympic appearance for the bold talent, was so near. Yet so far.
In July, days before the start of the Games, Richardson tested positive for marijuana and was handed a 30-day suspension. It sparked a debate in the US on whether marijuana should be included in the list of banned substances at all. But Richardson’s results at the trials had indeed been scratched, and her Olympics spot snatched.
She soon returned but missed out on qualifying for her home Eugene Worlds last year after failing to progress beyond the heats of the USATF Outdoor Championships. In six of her 11 sprints last year, she went beyond 11 seconds.
This year, the wig taken off, she turned it on.
In her season opener in a Florida meet in April, she ran a wind-aided 10.57. She won the 100m at the Doha Diamond League in May beating Jackson, which she repeated in the Diamond League meet in Poland clocking an identical 10.76.
In Budapest, she would go past Jackson again, her personal best and the fastest women’s 100m time ever at the Worlds.
"I'm here. I'm the champion," Richardson said after her win. "I told you all. I'm not back, I'm better."