Sanya Richards-Ross talks to David Cox about the moment she had been waiting 17 years for
Sanya Richards-Ross first dreamed of winning an individual Olympic gold at the age of nine. On August 5, 2012 she finally completed a journey which has seen her experience plenty of the unforgiving side of sport at the highest level.
For an athlete who clocked a scorching 48.70 back in 2006 to break the US 400m record, her winning time in London was a relatively pedestrian 49.55. But in 2012, Richards-Ross wasn’t interested in fast times. This time it was purely gold on her mind, whatever it took.
“I remember when I sat down with my dad and I talked about this year, after having a very disappointing 2011 coming off of injuries, my goal this season was to win,” she says. “I didn’t care if it was 50 seconds which won the race, I just wanted to compete well every single time and beat my competition.
“I really watched how Christine (Ohuruogu) executes her race when she’s on and how Amantle Montsho was running her race, and I really just trained to try to beat them. And I think I was successful in doing that.”
When we speak, it’s three months since the Olympics and training has already begun for the IAAF World Championships in Moscow. But for Richards-Ross, her triumph is still just sinking in.
She says: “Oh it’s such a relief. Big time, big time. I’ve wanted it for so long, since I was a little girl. I of course had success in the relay, which I don’t take for granted because those were sweet moments, but it’s just great to finally have won one individually in an event I work on every day so, yeah for sure, it feels like a huge weight off my shoulders. It’s a great relief.”
To understand just how much this medal means to Richards-Ross, one has to rewind the clock four years, to a time when she was experiencing very different emotions.
She arrived in Beijing as the overwhelming favourite for gold but, beset by nerves, she went out far too fast in the final and was overhauled by both Christine Ohuorugu and Shericka Williams in the last 100m. She still came away with an individual bronze and gold in the relay but, as far as she was concerned, it might as well have been nothing.
“Man, every time I reflect on that time and talk about it I realise that it still kind of carries a little bit of sadness for me,” she says. “Sometimes I talk about it and I still cry about it, but it was a very, very, very difficult time for me.
“I took a few months off and I remember I was still crying a little bit about it and Coach (Clyde) Hart, who’s just the best ever, kept telling me, ‘You have to get past this. Your best is still yet to come,’ and so I was able to start my training and in 2009 I had an extremely successful year, a great way to rebound, but it was really difficult right after Beijing.”
But now, instead of looking back, Richards-Ross knows it’s about looking forward. So what does 2013 have in store?
“My goal now for 2013 is to get back under 49 seconds and do it more than I’ve ever done it,” she asserts. “I’m really going to start focusing in on my race again. For me, I think my speed’s always there. For me the secret is in my execution and this year I was a little bit tentative on the back stretch all season long. I had Beijing in my mind and so I was just wanting to make sure that I finished strong.
“For me the secret to running the fast times is really executing my back stretch well and not losing too much momentum as I build back up my speed. In 2013 I really want to knock some more off my American record. I think it’s time to do that.”
» This is an extract from an interview with Sanya Richards-Ross from the January 3 issue of Athletics Weekly, which is available here