Stuart Weir pays tribute to USA’s four-time Olympic gold medallist Sanya Richards-Ross who is set to soon hang up her spikes

Sanya Richards-Ross has been denied the chance to defend her Olympic 400m title by an injury at the US Olympic trials which may well bring the curtain down on an illustrious career.

The four-time Olympic gold medallist handled her disappointment with the dignity one has come to expect from the great champion. She posted on Instagram: “When I envisioned my final season, I saw the flag draped over my shoulders one last time… It was the fairytale ending I had hoped for. But yesterday as I hung my head in disappointment after not completing my final 400, a fan yelled out… ‘We love you SRR’ it brought me back to the moment. It made me acutely aware that my fairytale ending was happening, it was happening right in front of me!!!

“As I jogged down the homestretch at my favorite track, all the fans stood to their feet and applauded me. I received a standing ovation in Hayward field. Surely it wasn’t for my performance on that day but for my performance over the years. I wish I could thank every fan individually for allowing me to have that moment. Reminding me that a career or a person aren’t defined by one race… I left my heart on the track yesterday and every day. Love you all so much.”

I first spoke to Sanya at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu in 2011. Britain’s Christine Ohuruogu had had the misfortune of false starting. Sanya took the trouble to say that she was really sorry that Christine would not be running against her, adding that she too had found the acoustics poor in the stadium and the gun difficult to hear. I thought it was a classy act by Sanya, and I told her so.

I met her properly for the first time a year later when I approached her manager (her mother) for an interview at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul. In my experience, such approaches often don’t even result in a reply. On this occasion, Sharon Richards emailed back to say that Sanya would be delighted to meet me. She turned up at the arranged time and fully engaged with the interview and gave me her personal email address to keep in touch.

Sanya’s husband, Aaron, is a two-time Super Bowl winner. It always amuses me that he is a superstar in America but relatively unknown in Europe, whereas Sanya is well known in Europe but given less recognition in America. I sometimes joke with her that there is only one superstar in the family and Aaron is married to her!

I arranged to have lunch with her at the Anniversary Games last year. She said she would have a nap and see me at 1.00pm. She didn’t show. Very apologetically she told me several hours later that she had slept right through lunch – and rearranged for the following day, the Friday. After lunch I headed for the track and was surprised to find Sanya running for USA in the 4x100m relay. After the race I commented that I had had no idea that she was running the relay. With a big smile she replied, “you and me both! I got a call at 4.00pm saying someone had dropped out and did I fancy running a relay. The London Olympics track has such happy memories for me that I couldn’t say no.”

In an article I wrote on her for AW, she paid a generous tribute to her rivalry with Christine, adding that she hoped that they could each medal in Rio for a third successive Olympics. Despite her own disappointment at the trials, she still found time to post on social media a tribute to DeeDee Trotter, who led the London Olympics 400m until the last 10 metres and who is also retiring this year.

Sanya is an outstanding athlete and an outstanding person. She will be sorely missed.