Capping a roller-coaster run in three years, Richardson sprinted past two formidable Jamaican rivals to win the 100-meter dash at the World Championships in Budapest. Richardson bested Shericka Jackson and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce to cross the finish line in 10.65 seconds, the fastest race of her life, a world championship record and a time only four women have ever surpassed.
Richardson ran on lane 9 after narrowly making the final and zoomed out of the blocks. At halftime she was tied with Jackson, who won silver at the 2022 World Championships. With 30 yards to go, she managed a strip of daylight between herself and Jackson, who from her inside lane could barely see Richardson slowly moving past her. At the finish line, Richardson spread her arms as if about to take off and fly away.
As she stopped, she stared at the clock and let out a squeak of stunned delight. When the moment hit her, she screamed and hopped down the track smiling while gazing at the crowd.
Richardson wrapped an American flag around his shoulders and circled the track with Jackson and Fraser-Pryce. She had only remotely witnessed them collecting medals, being unable to compete in the Tokyo 2021 Olympics due to a suspension and failing to qualify for the 2022 World Cup. Now she was her equal.
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Richardson may only be 23 years old, but her career has had a number of sagas. She turned pro in 2019 after sudden advances at LSU made her a college record holder and rose to the world elite.
In 2021, her captivating performance at the US Olympics in Eugene, Oregon, made her an instant star. With Americans stuck on the network during the pandemic, Richardson stormed to victory in the 100-meter dash sporting a flowing orange wig and claw-like fingernail extensions – a style reminiscent of her idol, Florence Griffith Joyner. She announced on the track, “I'm that girl.” She then climbed onto the stands at Hayward Field and hugged her grandmother, the woman who raised her. During the meeting, she revealed that she had recently learned that her birth mother had died.
Richardson was poised to become one of the biggest American stars of the Tokyo Games. Shortly after the trial ended, she tested positive for marijuana, which she said she had taken in Oregon at the trial to deal with the news of her mother's death. The punishment, which many considered too harsh for a widely legal recreational drug in the United States, kept her out of the Olympics.
Wracked by sudden fame and public controversy, Richardson struggled to gain a foothold. She finished last in her first race. Her goal was to regain prominence at the World Championships in Eugene, but at the national championships, Richardson finished a run in 11.31 seconds and failed to advance past the first qualifying round.
In recent months, Richardson had shown steady signs of improvement. In April she managed 10.57 seconds with wind assistance. She won a Diamond League meeting in May and continued to win every race she entered.
A month ago, she ran 10.71 seconds in the pre-national championships, a personal best that made her the seventh fastest woman of all time. In the finals the next day, she wore one of her trademark wigs, this fiery orange, on the starting line. When her name was announced, Richardson removed the wig to reveal braids that stretched down her back and threw it on the track. She then sprinted across the field in 10.82 seconds.
“I'm not back,” she said on the track. “I'm better.”
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Richardson has retained the charisma that made her a distinctive star. In Sunday's first qualifying round, Richardson dusted the field and theatrically wiped sweat from her brow as she crossed the finish line.
She didn't have such a luxury in Monday's semifinals, when only the top two runners in each heat automatically advanced. Richardson staggered off the blocks late as if she hadn't heard the starting gun. Her speed allowed her to catch and pass all but Ivory Coast's Jackson and Marie-Josée Ta Lou. She had to wait and see if she would qualify in time. After one more run, she got her 10.84 through.
In the final, her strong start ensured that her top speed gave her a chance to win. She ran faster than ever. Richardson isn't just better. She's the best in the world now.