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Richards, Sanya 1985–

Sanya Richards 1985–

Track and field athlete

Sprinter Sanya Richards is one of the world's fastest women. The Jamaican-American excels in the 400-meter event, a quarter-mile race in which she set a new U.S. women's record in 2006 with a time of 48.70 seconds. According to Lillian Ross in Vogue, Richards “has the traditionally appealing aura of a star,” and her track accomplishments, beauty, and engaging personality have made her a fan favorite.

Showed Natural Talent for Track

Richards was born in 1985 in Kingston, Jamaica, the elder of two daughters born to Archie and Sharon Richards. Her father had once played soccer for Jamaica's under-20 national team, and her mother owned a gym in the Kingston area before the family moved to the United States. Richards's talents as an athlete were apparent at an early age. “When I was seven, I won a school sports-day race, and I felt it was something I saw myself doing for the rest of my life,” she told Ross. “When I'm running, I feel free. What I feel is—I'm floating.”

The Richards family moved to Pembroke Pines, Florida, when Sanya was twelve years old. There her father became a real estate professional, and her mother established herself in business as a travel adviser. At Fort Lauderdale's St. Thomas Aquinas High School, Richards earned top grades and began to win 100-meter, 200-meter, and 400-meter events on her school's team. She proved such a talented runner that during her junior year she decided to pursue a track and field athletic career in earnest. Her parents were supportive, and even altered their own eating habits to suit her new training regimen, eliminating both red meat and sugar from their household.

Richards won top honors as the nation's female high school athlete of the year both for her prowess and academic achievements. Graduating in 2002 with a 3.9 grade-point average, she went on to the University of Texas (UT), where she joined the Longhorns track team and studied business. At the U.S. Junior championships in 2002, she took first place in both the 200-meter and 400-meter races, and also began competing in races sponsored by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), which pitted her against some of the world's best female runners. In 2003 she was the first-place finisher in the 400-meter race at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championships with a time of 50.58 seconds, which set a new American junior record.

Ran to Olympic Gold

In July of 2004 at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials, Richards broke the 50-second barrier with a finish of 49.89 seconds for the 400-meter, which surpassed her previous junior record and earned her a spot on the U.S. women's Olympic team. In Athens, Greece, at the 2004 Summer Games a month later, however, she fared less well against an impressive bevy of international competition, and though she finished the 400-meter with a time of 50.19 seconds, it was a sixth-place finish. She did earn a gold medal, however, with the U.S. women's team in the 4 x 400 relay event.

Richards was still enrolled at UT, but had chosen to turn professional in June of 2004, which made her ineligible for NCAA events. She also switched her major to management-information systems, a computer-science field. In 2005 she continued to set new track and field records, running the 400-meter at the Weltklasse Golden League meet in Zürich, Switzerland, that August with a time of 48.92 seconds, making her the youngest woman ever to break the 49-second barrier. At the 2006 IAAF World Cup event in Athens in September, she achieved a new personal best with a first-place finish of 48.70 seconds in the 400-meter, breaking a U.S. women's record that had been in place for twenty-two years. With that coup, she was named the IAAF's Female World Athlete of the Year.

Richards graduated from UT in 2006, but was already dividing her time by then between Austin and Waco, Texas, where Clyde Hart, her coach, supervised the Baylor University track team. Hart also coached Jeremy Wariner, who won the men's gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics. “It has been awesome to train with Jeremy,” Richards told John Maher, a writer for the Austin American-Statesman. “He's the best male athlete at 400 meters. Knowing what he's doing reinforces what I'm doing and makes me feel like I can be the best in the world as well.”

In June of 2007 Richards finished in fourth place at the U.S. Track and Field Championships in Indianapolis, and failed to qualify for a spot on the U.S. women's team for the world championships in the 400-meter. However, she dominated the event throughout the rest of the international track season. In 2007 Golden League competitions, a series of seven IAAF-sponsored events, Richards came in first place in all of the 400-meter races, which gave her a prize purse of $500,000 for the sweep. She remained intensely focused on winning gold at the 2008 Beijing Games, admitting that the world's other top women in the 400-meter race—such as Britain's Christine Ohuruogu—were formidable adversaries on the track, but “there is nothing personal about it,” she told Bob Rodman in the Register-Guard of Eugene, Oregon. “Every time I meet up with them, I have to be on top of my game. They have heightened my desire to be at my best all of the time.”

At a Glance …

Born February 26, 1985, in Kingston, Jamaica; immigrated to the United States, c. 1997; naturalized U.S. citizen, 2002; daughter of Archie (in real estate) and a Sharon (a travel adviser) Richards; engaged to Aaron Ross. Education: University of Texas, Austin, BBA in management information systems, 2006.

Career: Track and field athlete. Competitor in International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), 2001—; U.S. women's Olympic team, 2004 Summer Games; turned professional in June 2004.

Awards: Gold medal, 2004 Summer Olympics, with U.S. women's team for 4 x 400 relay event; Visa Humanitarian Athlete of the Year, 2004; World Female Athlete of the Year, International Association of Athletics Federations, 2006; Jesse Owens Award, USA Track & Field, 2006, as the outstanding athlete of the year.

Addresses: E-mail— [email protected]

Richards is planning a 2009 wedding to Aaron Ross, former defensive back with the UT Longhorns who was a first-round National Football League (NFL) draft pick of the New York Giants. Richards actually helped her fiancé prepare for the Scouting Combine that serves as the pre-draft showcase for NFL hopefuls. Ross improved his time in the 40-yard dash after “I showed him some stuff that is second nature to me but a football player never thinks about—arm movement and digging into the track,” she explained to Maher in the Austin American-Statesman. Richards and her family became naturalized U.S. citizens in 2002, and her parents remain intensely involved in her career. In 2006 her mother began serving as her sports agent. “The role of parent takes precedence over all other roles,” Richards told Rodman in the Register-Guard about why her parents were the best representatives for her. “They have my best interest at heart in everything, and the agent thing is secondary.”

Sources

Periodicals

Austin American-Statesman (Austin, TX), May 9, 2007, p. C1.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, TX), March 19, 2007.

New York Times, June 25, 2006, p. SP6.

Register-Guard (Eugene, OR), May 26, 2006, p. C1.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL), August 25, 2004.

Sports Illustrated, February 19, 2007, p. 26.

USA Today, June 9, 2004, p. 10C.

Vogue, July 2004, p. 132.

—Carol Brennan

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