At London 2012, Sanya Richard-Ross ended her long wait for individual gold in her beloved 400m, a distance in which she had long been a dominant force, and which brought her a unique hat-trick of Olympic relay titles.
Born in the Jamaican capital of Kingston, Sanya Richards-Ross began running at the age of seven, which is nothing unusual in a country that loves its athletics. She won a number of races at youth level and soon developed a hatred of losing, a character trait that has stayed with her throughout her career. At the age of 12 she moved to the USA with her family, and in 2002, in her final year at high school in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, she was named the National High School Female Athlete of the Year and USA Track and Field Youth Athlete of the Year. That same year she became a naturalised American and began studying at the University of Texas in Austin, where she came under tutelage of Clyde Hart, Michael Johnson’s coach.
The following year Richards-Ross broke into the world 400m elite by helping the USA to win relay gold at the World Championships, a success she repeated in the same event at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Within a year she was the world number one over 400m, a status she retained in 2006 and 2007 thanks to a string of IAAF Golden League victories. A red-hot favourite going into the Olympic 400m final at Beijing 2008, the American was surprisingly beaten into third place by Great Britain’s Christine Ohuruogu and Jamaica’s Shericka Williams. Though bitterly disappointed, she atoned in the best possible fashion by running a storming anchor leg in the 4x400m relay final three days later. Receiving the baton with several metres to make up on Russia’s Anastasiya Kapachinskaya, she drew on her determination not to leave the Chinese capital without a gold medal and gradually reeled in her opponent, overtaking her on the home straight to give the USA victory in a time of 3.18.54.
Richards-Ross ran 49.00 in winning her first individual 400m world title at Berlin in 2009 and maintained her dominance throughout that season to be named the IAAF Female World Athlete of the Year for the second time in her career, having won the award for the first time in 2006. In 2010, she married American football player Aaron Ross of the New York Giants. At Daegu in 2011 she landed her fifth world 4x400m relay crown, though it was in London on 5 August 2012 that she finally won the title she wanted most after running the perfect race in the Olympic 400m final. Emerging from the final turn in fourth, she poured on the pace to beat her old rival Ohuruogu at the death in a time of 49.55. And it came as no surprise when she won her second gold in the British capital by anchoring the USA to another victory in the 4x400m relay.
“After Beijing I just stayed focused on the goal I still hadn’t achieved,” said the five-time world champion and four-time Olympic gold medallist. “Now that I’ve done it, though, I want to do it all over again. I’ll be going to Rio to defend my title.” She remains the only female athlete in history to win the 4x400m relay at three successive editions of the Games.
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