Sha'Carri Richardson's toned down look at record-setting outing could help explain how she found 'peace back on the track'
What was most striking, at least to these eyes, was how Sha'Carri Richardson showed up to the Doha Diamond League meet on Friday in Qatar.
There was the shades-of-green racing kit from her sponsor, Nike, with no embellishments such as rhinestones or waist beads. Her hair was braided, with no obvious signs of color outside of black in her strands. Her makeup was soft, with shiny red lips highlighting her smile as she celebrated her win.
It was a markedly pared down appearance compared to what we've seen from the Texan when she's on the track.
Maybe that was the point. We're used to seeing Richardson announce her presence with colorful hair and racing fits inspired by the iconic Florence Griffith-Joyner. But these days, it seems she's letting her running speak for her.
Richardson's win in Doha was against a stacked field that included 2022 World Championships silver medalist Shericka Jackson and fourth-place finisher Dina Asher-Smith, as well as reigning U.S. titlist Melissa Jefferson. Jackson and Asher-Smith were leading at the midway point of the race before Richardson closed and overtook them. Her 10.76-second time was a meet record and the fastest time in the world this season.
Last month in her opener in Florida, Richardson ran a wind-aided 10.57 seconds in the final, making her the third woman ever to run that fast in any conditions, joining Flo-Jo and Jamaica's Elaine Thompson-Herah. Richardson is the only American woman to run 10.80 seconds or better since 2017, and she has now done it five times.
Speaking to a reporter immediately after the Doha run, Richardson said she "found her peace back on the track, and I'm not letting anything or anybody take that anymore."
In a candid video posted to Instagram last week before the Diamond League meet, Richardson appeared to be holding back her emotions as she gave a hint at what has been helping her.
"That's why I was going through the things I was going through, the pain that I was feeling, that's why all of these things were happening to me, and I know that now because I had to return back to my faith," she said. "I feel so much better. That's why y'all say I'm back — I'm not back. I'm better."
She hasn't detailed exactly who or what might've taken her peace previously, but we know some of what she might be talking about. Richardson has experienced her share of bumps since sprinting into the global track spotlight just shy of four years ago, when as a 19-year-old freshman at LSU she won the NCAA women's 100-meter title in a collegiate record of 10.75 seconds.
Most famously, she had her 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials win stripped after she tested positive for marijuana at the meet. The punishment meant she couldn't compete at the Tokyo Games that year, where she would've been a medal favorite. There was a massive debate online over whether the punishment was warranted. Those who sided with Richardson pointed to the growing number of American states where marijuana use is legal. But it was then and remains on the World Anti-Doping Agency's list of banned substances.
Richardson has said she used marijuana to cope with the news that her biological mother had died, which she didn't know had happened until a reporter told her at the U.S. Trials. (Richardson was raised primarily by her grandmother.)
Last year, Richardson didn't make it to the finals of the U.S. championships in the 100m or 200m, meaning she wasn't on the World Championships team to face off against the Jamaican stars Jackson, Thompson-Herah and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce with Worlds held on American soil for the first time. U.S. women have been shut out of the medals at the past three global meets, with the late Tori Bowie, the 2017 World gold medalist, the last to win one.
While track and field has major meets throughout the year, the global championships make legends, and Richardson hasn't yet advanced to that stage.
She has the chance to change that this summer and next. Worlds are usually held every other year in the odd years, but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed those majors back — the 2020 Olympics were held in 2021, and the 2021 Worlds were last year. The World Championships will be in Budapest in August this year, with the Paris Olympics in 2024.
The first post on Richardson's YouTube page, posted at the beginning of this year, is a mishmash of clips. She walks around the new home she had just bought and introduces young family members who are there, her dog, Dallas, and her grandmother. Later, she answers questions from fans, one of which is what she overcame to be as successful as she is.
"Honestly, I don't feel like I'm that successful as I could be, should be and will be," she said. "But the biggest obstacle is just understanding and keeping myself grounded, like being whole within myself because in the industry, in the world ... there's a lot that can influence you. There's a lot that can change you. It's a lot that can manipulate you, and you have to understand yourself more than anything, because peer pressure is real."
Richardson, 23, later said she believes people forget how young she is and that she "responds to hate" because she has long felt misunderstood and like she needs to defend herself.
Maybe she'll get back to the bejeweled racing suits and colorful hair, carrying on the glamorous run-fast, look-fly tradition credited to Flo-Jo. Or maybe she won't.
Regardless, being at peace looks good on her.