This is a feature by Deji Ogeyingbo on Sha’Carri Richardson, the controversial sprinter who intrigues and confounds many.
The curious case of Sha’Carri Richardson: How can the sprinter turn around her career?
We waited and we found one. Athletics needed an enigma and we found one. Having an athlete take to the track who was capable of the miraculous, with a passion for talking tough that kept people on the edge of their seats. The sport had craved for it, and we reveled at finding the next superstar that would resonate beyond the shores of a track. Sha’Carri Richardson was the answer to our prayers. We were excited but now disappointed.
At the early stage of her career, Richardson was said to be a hybrid between Gail Devers and Florence Griffith-Joyner. The US had on their hands the next track superstar that will challenge the might of the Jamaican women who have dominated the sprints for the last decade. It was the grooming that mattered.
Sha’Carri Richardson, 100m,
USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships held at Hayward Field, University of Oregon, June 23-26, 2022, photo by Kevin Morris
Richardson was so precocious during her NCAA days at Louisiana State University, she was courted by the best shoe brands for sponsorships. It wasn’t just her performances on the Track that endeared them to her, but her story was unique. The 22-year-old was a freak of nature with her personality, wasn’t scared of controversies and her story was appealing. Typical grass to grace. We will get to that in a bit.
Let’s talk numbers first on the journey of Richardson. As a teenager, Richardson won her first 100m championship at the AAU Junior Olympics in the year 2016. Then, in 2017, she won her second title at the USATF Junior Championships. In the same year, she made her international debut at the Pan-American U-20 Athletics Championship in which she won 4x100m Relay Gold.
Richardson began to blossom in 2019 when she ran a couple of impressive sub-11 seconds at LSU. She won the women’s 100m at the NCAA Div. 1 championships final with a jaw-dropping 10.75s and went on to finish second in the 200m. In a divergence, it was that year we began to notice a bit of inconsistency with her result. One excellent race, three decent ones, and a few bad ones. We shrugged it off. It was felt that once she turned Professional, she would iron out the rough edges. We were wrong.
It was in 2021 she came into the full glare of the entire public. Guess a star can’t be hidden for long. The thing with stars is you have to be able to shine bright all the time. Not sometimes like we have come to see with Richardson. By then, she had signed her first sponsorship contract with shoe giants Nike for a reported $100,000 a year deal, and it was expected she was going to be their headline sprinter, relegating the likes of eventual Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah.
And in one of her early races in April, the diminutive sprinter ran a blistering 10.72s to become the sixth fastest woman in history. It was there she began to ruffle feathers with the best sprinters on the track. Undoubtedly, she won the US Olympics Trials in June of that year, until the unthinkable happened. Well, as we have come to realize with Richardson, very thinkable. She seems to be able to self-destruct when things are moving fine for her.
Richardson tested positive for marijuana. Her Olympic dreams were over at that point. Although we might not be able to judge what time she would have run in Tokyo, she was in good shape. It didn’t matter really in the grand scheme of things as it was the story afterward that shook many.
After throwing big money at her, Nike stuck with her. As it was said, she took responsibility for her actions by apologizing and owning up to the mistake. If it ever was. The bottom line is you can look at the situation from the half-cup empty stance. Despite Nike trying to tell a story by extending its support to every athlete who missed an opportunity in the past, for an athlete like Richardson, it did more harm than good.
They protected one of their own but left her vulnerable. On the track afterward, she couldn’t live up to her pre-Olympic hype. There was a feeling 2022 was going to be a better year. A start of something good perhaps. It did. For a while, and it didn’t.
The best time under all conditions was in Florida in June 2022. A 10.73 (+4.5) was meant to be a confidence booster ahead of the US trials. Before that, she had run a 10.92s (+0.7) at Nike’s Prefontaine classic. There was a yearning afterward. Can she be consistent? Can she not shoot herself in the foot a derail her chances at the trails? Guess all of that went down the drain when she was sent packing after the Prelims in the 100m and couldn’t make it past the semis in the 200m.
What seems to be wrong? How can an obviously talented sprinter be so consistently inconsistent? She seems to be trying and then not-trying at the same time. And to another wild guess, maybe she’s quietly quitting.
It’s a terminology that started to gain traction as a term last summer, but in reality, the concept has been around for generations. It is not so much a schism or a resignation as a kind of mental detachment from one’s work, a refusal to let it define you. You do not storm into your boss’s office and cause a scene. You simply sit quietly, fulfill any routine contractual obligations, and spend the rest of your time enjoying your newly liberated headspace.
Richardson is one of the well-paid track stars whether she turns or not. There are some brands that tilt towards eccentric athletes. Non-conformers they like, and the American is as good as they come. Dr. Dabber, a vaping company endorsed her for $250,000. Her partnership with Beats and Apple music got bigger, too.
There are a few paths for Richardson to take now. Double down on giving her brands a good story to tell and she quits quietly. Another option is to work her socks off and get back to the top of her game by becoming consistent. There is also the path of her changing her management/ coaching team and dabbling into a new realm of the unknown.
Bottomline is athletics will be fine. There will always be new content to create and new stars willing to create them.