Within seconds, the brightly colored hue of track star Sha’Carri Richardson’s hair became a flaming orange blur, blowing past the other fast-but-not-fast-enough sprinters earlier this month at the Olympic qualifying trials in Eugene, Oregon. Beyond the blistering times she’s posting on the track, Richardson is just as popular for her unshakeable confidence, always-colorful hair, body full of tattoos and long nails. They say a lot about her, obviously. But those traits are at their most impactful state when together, they form the nouns, verbs and adjectives for her always-bold fashion statements.
We haven’t seen anyone like her in a long time.
And when the Tokyo Olympics kick off next month, we’ll see more—a lot more—of the 21-year-old Richardson in her pursuit of gold.
“I just want the world to know I’m that girl,” Richardson told NBC during the Olympic Trials. And that girl is poised to be all that in her pursuit of a gold medal in the 100 meters which would make her the first American to win Olympic gold in the event since Gail Devers in 1996.
While most may see her as just another track star on the rise (Lord knows Team USA could use one), check the receipts people! Richardson is just 21 years old, but she has been building towards this moment for some time. In 2017, Richardson won a national junior title which established her as one of the best youthful track athletes in the country. And as a freshman at LSU, she won a 100-meter title with a record time of 10.75 seconds.
Richardson is now the No. 2-ranked sprinter in the world, just behind Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce, 34, who has won Olympic medals (two gold, one bronze) in each of the last three Olympiads and ran 100 meters earlier this year in 10.62 seconds which was the second-fastest 100-meter time ever.
To be so young and be in such elite company, says volumes about how Richardson has established herself as one of the world’s premier sprinters. These are exciting times for Richardson, for sure. But as bright as Richardson’s future may look, she too has had her share of adversity and heartache along the journey. Shortly after qualifying for the Olympics earlier this month, Richardson took a victory stroll on the track and soon made her way into the stands looking for her grandmother.
Much like when she comes out of the starting blocks with laser-like focus, nothing was going to keep her from finishing this sprint, getting to the one place of refuge and safety that has been the ultimate comforter—her grandmother’s arms. But as we soon found out, the emotions expressed by Richardson had little to do with the race she just won, but more to do with the kind of personal loss that rocks one to their core.
“Last week, finding out my biological mother passed away, and still choosing to pursue my dreams. Still coming out here,” Richardson said in an interview after the race. “The fact that nobody knows what I go through, everybody has struggles and I understand that, but y’all see me on this track, and y’all see the poker face I put on, but nobody but [my family] and my coach know what I go through on a day-to-day basis.”
Richardson is a woman whose greatest strength is running fast, but there was no escaping the emotions she was feeling in this moment. The pain that so many of us deal with when a loved one is lost, she was dealing with.
With a heavy heart, Richardson approached the Olympic trials more determined than ever to do what she does well—win races. She did just that because remember, she is that girl. And if you don’t know much about that girl now, no worries. You will in due time.
She’ll be the colorful blur on your screen, sprinting ahead of the pack and into the hearts and minds of the world as she takes her place as the latest great American track star.