The lingering question in the wake of the women’s 100-meter final at the Tokyo Olympics was how Sha’Carri Richardson’s presence would have altered the outcome.
Could America’s fastest woman have broken up Jamaica’s 1-2-3 sweep if she were permitted to run? Might Richardson even have challenged gold medalist Elaine Thompson-Herah, who came as close to Florence Griffith Joyner’s world record as anyone has in 33 years?
Richardson’s underwhelming return to the track at Saturday's Prefontaine Classic essentially poured a bucket of ice water on that simmering debate. In her first race since the marijuana suspension that robbed her of the chance to compete in Tokyo, Richardson finished last, not only behind all three Jamaican medalists but also behind the five other competitors.
Thompson-Herah won the women's 100 in a personal-best 10.54 seconds, which was .05 seconds off FloJo's record of 10.49. She pulled away from countrywomen Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Shericka Jackson just like she did in Tokyo three weeks ago. Richardson started sluggishly and continued to lose ground throughout the race. Her time of 11.14 seconds is more than four-tenths of a second shy of what she was running earlier this season.
Sha'Carri Richardson delivers fiery post-race interview
At the end of the race, Richardson delivered fireworks during a defiant trackside interview with NBC's Lewis Johnson. Still out of breath from the race, Richardson declared her performance "a great return back to the sport" and insisted she was "not upset at myself at all."
"This is one race," Richardson continued. "I'm not done. You know what I'm capable of. Count me out if you want to. Talk all the s— you want. Because I'm here to stay. I'm not done. I'm the sixth fastest woman in this game ever. Can't nobody ever take that from me."
"Talk all the sh*t you want" - Sha'carri Richardson pic.twitter.com/XQRzy1cODn
— CJ Fogler #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) August 21, 2021
That Richardson appeared overmatched on Saturday suggests she might not have been a factor in Tokyo either had she run. Whereas her opponents geared their training to peak mentally and physically during the Olympics, Richardson’s primary focus for the past six weeks has been preparing her legs and her mind for the Prefontaine Classic. In other words, this was a fight tilted in Richardson’s favor, yet she still wasn’t competitive.
Richardson was also scheduled to compete in the women's 200 on Saturday afternoon but withdrew from that race. The surprise winner of the 200 was Switzerland's Mujinga Kambundji, who emerged from a field that included Americans Gabby Thomas and Allyson Felix.
While Richardson didn’t leave Oregon's Hayward Field with bragging rights, the buzz that her return generated might have provided a small consolation. Nearly two dozen gold medalists from the Tokyo Games participated in the Prefontaine Classic, yet it was Richardson taking aim at the world’s fastest women that transformed this non-Olympic track meet into a spectacle that resonated with mainstream viewers.
Richardson’s rise to prominence began in June when she displayed an irresistible mix of speed, style and showmanship at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Fire-orange hair trailing behind her, the 21-year-old blew away the competition in the women’s 100 meters, seemingly solidifying herself as a medal contender in Tokyo.
After Richardson won her semifinal heat in a torrid 10.64 seconds, an NBC on-track interviewer asked her, “What do you want the world to know about you?” Responded Richardson with a hint of a smile: “I just want the world to know that I’m that girl.”
Richardson appeared poised to emerge as one of America’s Olympic breakout stars until early July when her dreams of competing were dashed. Her positive drug test invalidated her results from the U.S. Trials and disqualified her from racing in Tokyo.
In an interview with the Today Show last month, Richardson said that she ingested marijuana days before the Olympic trials after learning of the death of her biological mother from a “complete stranger.” She described the experience as "triggering" and "nerve-shocking," and said it sent her into "a state of emotional panic."
The debate over the fairness of Richardson’s Olympic ban brought her more attention than an Olympic medal ever would have. Richardson’s following on Instagram soared past 2 million in early July. Apple-owned Beats by Dre featured her in an ad campaign a few weeks later. The list of celebrities to publicly express support for Richardson included everyone from Seth Rogen and Cardi B, to Patrick Mahomes and Megan Rapinoe.
Notably absent from that list were any of her primary rivals in the 100. That might be because of comments Richardson made taking credit after Fraser-Pryce ran a personal best 10.63 back in June.
My presence in this track game making history happen,no need for a thank you. 🔥🔥
— Sha’Carri Richardson (@itskerrii) June 5, 2021
Or because of what she tweeted as the Olympic women's 100 heats began.
Missing me yet?
— Sha’Carri Richardson (@itskerrii) July 30, 2021
Richardson seemed to extend an olive branch by congratulating her counterparts as the Olympics went on, but perhaps by then the damage was done. Thompson-Herah and Fraser-Pryce offered terse no comments when reporters asked about Richardson in Tokyo.
Critics seize on debut of Nike commercial featuring Richardson
On social media, many of Richardson's critics spent Saturday evening poking fun at the commercial that Nike released earlier in the day to coincide with her return.
No more waiting. Let the @itskerrii show begin.
Sha’Carri laces up her spikes this weekend at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon. Throw some love for her in the comments. pic.twitter.com/ERDV77HZGX
— Nike (@Nike) August 21, 2021
The commercial opens with Richardson tapping her signature impossibly long acrylic fingernails. Then she lists all that she has been waiting to do during her suspension.
“I’ve been waiting," Richardson begins. "Patiently waiting. Waiting to show y’all that I’m no one-hit wonder. Waiting to show y'all it’s not what I’ve done but what I’m about to do. Waiting to show y’all that I’m more than a news headline. Waiting to show y’all why I’m that girl.”
The ad closes with Richardson promising to be waiting at the finish line, a line rich with irony on Saturday given her disappointing performance.
On this day, by the time Richardson crossed the finish line, her rivals had already begun celebrating.
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