“I’m a fan.”
Those were the words of four-time Olympic gold medallist Simone Biles about the newest athletics star set to take on the world at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, American sprint sensation, Sha’Carri Richardson.
Biles was watching along with plenty of other U.S. track fans as Richardson blazed her way to victory in the 100m on Saturday (19 June), assuring her a spot in Tokyo and a place on the world stage.
The only question: Is the world ready for Sha’Carri? Perhaps not.
“I just want the world to know I'm that girl,” Richardson told NBC at one point during the Olympic Trials.
Age 21 and standing just 5 foot 1 (154cm), Richardson has ever-changing hair colour (it was orange during Trials), exceptionally long acrylic nails, and a grandmother she calls her personal “superwoman” for helping her achieve what she has.
Here, five things to know about the Dallas native who will make her Olympic debut in Tokyo.
Family comes first
As soon as Richardson crossed the finish line at the U.S. Olympic Trials for her 100m win, she didn’t stop running: Instead, she dashed up the stairs at Hayward Field and found her grandmother in the stands, bringing her in to an emotional embrace.
Richardson revealed that her biological mother had passed away in recent months in 2021, and that she wanted to be sure her grandmother was there to watch her in the “biggest meet of my life.”
“My family has kept me grounded,” she said. “This year has been crazy for me. My family is my everything.”
“My grandmother is my heart,” she added.
A style all her own
Even if she is the shortest one on the track, Richardson is sure she stands out.
From her ever-changing hair colour to her multitude of tattoos to her piercings and long, bright acrylic nails, the Texas native has crafted a style all her own.
It’s loud and proud – much like Richardson’s personality.
Her hair at U.S. Trials? She dyed it orange.
“My girlfriend actually helped me pick this colour,” Richardson told reporters. “She felt like it was like loud and encouraging. She was like, ‘If you go out there and be the best, you need to look the best. You need to make a statement.’”
The nails? Think back to the days of Gail Devers and Florence Griffith Joyner, the latter who has owned the world record in the women’s 100m for some 33 years (10.49 at the U.S. Trials, 1988).
Biles, Felix: Big-name fans
While it was Biles watching Richardson from home, five-time gold medallist Allyson Felix has had a much closer view of Sha’Carri’s development.
“I think her energy is incredible,” Felix said. “Obviously she has so much talent. It's really fun for all of us to watch her and see that spirit of hers.”
Though her style can be compared to Griffith Joyner and Devers, Richardson saluted another American sprinting legend, Carmelita Jeter, in the U.S. Trials, pointing to the clock in the semi-finals before crossing the finish line, much like Jeter did at the Olympic Games London 2012 in the 4x100m relay.
Taking on the world
Richardson hasn’t come out of nowhere. She was an accomplished junior runner, and in 2017 won a national junior title in the U.S. As a freshman at Louisiana State University in 2019, she dashed to the 100m collegiate title, running in a record time of 10.75. She also placed second in the 200m.
She announced in late 2019 after her freshman season that she would be leaving LSU to pursue her dream as a professional.
Her 10.72 in April of 2021 was the sixth-fastest legal time ever.
But, because of her age and relative inexperience on the senior international stage, the Olympics will mark one of her first major global competitions.
Trying to put Team USA back on top
It’s actually been 25 years – since Devers at Atlanta 1996 – since the U.S. has had a female champ in the 100m, the longest drought ever for the athletics-strong nation.
Devers was champion in 1992 and 1996 following Griffith Joyner’s win in 1988. Evelyn Ashford won in 1984. Wilma Rudolph (1960) and Wyomia Tyus (1964 and 1968) were the first black females to win Olympic gold for the U.S. in the 100m.
The showdown for gold in Tokyo could be thrilling. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Olympic champ in 2008 and 2012, should contend for the podium again, as should Team GB’s Dina AsherSmith and Fraser Pryce’s Jamaican teammate, Elaine Thompson, the 2016 Olympic champ.
“To be an Olympian... that was always the ultimate goal,” Richardson said, adding that she’s happy to have struggled through to get to the point where she is now: “I would tell my younger self [that] everything you've gone through, everything you don't even understand, now it all pay off when you least expect it. That's what I will go back to.”