U.S. Track & Field Trials: Sha'Carri Richardson heads to Paris as women's 100 gold-medal favorite

Ever since she dominated her signature race at the 2021 U.S. Olympic trials, only to have her breakthrough victory wiped out because of a positive marijuana test, Sha’Carri Richardson had worked toward this moment.

America’s best-known sprinting star knelt in the starting blocks, a look of determination etched across her face. The second chance that she had craved for three long years was finally here. Redemption was just a single 100-meter sprint away.

When the starter’s pistol fired, Richardson seized the moment and secured her spot at next month's Paris Olympics. She blew past the rest of the women’s 100 meters field at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials, easing across the finish line in first place in a world-leading 10.71 seconds.

Joining Richardson in a bear hug after she crossed the finish line were two of her training partners under coach Dennis Mitchell. Melissa Jefferson clinched her place in Paris by taking second place in 10.80 seconds, as did Twanisha Terry, who held on for third in 10.89.

"Every chapter I've been through in my life was designed to prepare me for this moment," Richardson told NBC's Lewis Johnson. "I cannot wait to go to Paris and represent."

In the first two rounds of women’s 100 qualifying, Richardson didn’t come close to executing her start how she wanted. She wobbled out of the blocks with her right shoe untied on Friday, but still rallied from last place to win her preliminary heat in 10.88 seconds. Her semifinal start was also sluggish, but she reeled in the rest of the field again to win in 10.86 seconds.

“That tells me I’m prepared,” she told NBC in a post-race interview. “I just need to put it all together.”

A mediocre start didn't leave her as far behind in Saturday's final. That was all she needed to outclass the rest of the field without even running hard through the finish line.

The strong performance from Richardson further entrenches her as the gold-medal favorite in the women’s 100. Not only does she appear to be fit and confident, Jamaica’s decorated trio of veteran sprinters haven’t displayed the same dominance as they did three years ago when they swept the women’s 100 podium in Tokyo.

Elaine Thompson-Herah, the first woman to win the sprint double at back-to-back Olympics, finished last in her first 100 of the season in May and then suffered an untimely Achilles injury in early June. Reigning 200 meters world champion Shericka Jackson hasn’t unleashed any blazing times so far this season, nor has the legendary 37-year-old Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who won in a less-than-eye-popping 11.15 seconds in her only 100 meters race so far this season.

Two American collegians who might have challenged Richardson in Paris also failed to qualify in the women’s 100. McKenzie Long of Ole Miss, the NCAA champion in both the 100 and 200 earlier this month, finished fourth in her semifinal heat on Saturday and failed to advance to the final. Tennessee’s Jacious Sears, previously the world leader in the 100 this season, withdrew from trials earlier in the week as a result of an injury she sustained at the SEC Championships.

Sha'Carri Richardson reacts after winning the women's 100-meter dash final at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials on Saturday in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Sha'Carri Richardson reacts after winning the women's 100-meter dash final at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials on Saturday in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Richardson avoiding a similar fate surely was a relief for NBC executives and for the many corporations that have hired her as a pitchwoman. Richardson’s bid for redemption promises to make her one of the featured athletes at the Paris Games.

Three years ago, Richardson was one of the faces of the Tokyo Olympics without even being there. When Richardson revealed that she ingested marijuana after learning of the death of her biological mother, the debate over the fairness of her suspension brought her more attention than even a gold medal would have.

Richardson’s following on Instagram soared past two million. Nike and Apple-owned Beats by Dre featured her in ad campaigns. The list of celebrities who expressed support for Richardson included everyone from Seth Rogen and Cardi B, to Patrick Mahomes and Megan Rapinoe.

It took a year for Richardson to regain her pre-marijuana suspension form, but recently she has run with trademark confidence and swagger. Appearing in her first world championships last summer, Richardson took gold in the 100 and bronze in the 200. She opened her 2024 season at the Prefontaine Classic in late May by outclassing a strong field in the 100.

Now Richardson will take aim at becoming the U.S.’s first gold medalist in the women’s 100 since Gail Devers in 1996.

As Richardson herself famously put it last summer, “I’m not back. I’m better.”