ShaCarri Richardson wins 100-meter final to earn spot on U.S. Olympic team

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Two steps before she reached the finish line, Sha’Carri Richardson started pounding her chest.

She knew she had it won. Anyone who doesn’t see her as the sprinter to beat at the Paris Olympics should probably think again.

Richardson notched the latest stop on her “I’m Not Back, I’m Better” tour with a 10.71-second sprint in the 100-meters at U.S. track trials on Saturday that makes her the fastest woman in the world in 2024 and officially earned her a trip to France where the women start racing Aug. 2.

ShaSha’Carri Richardson and Melissa Jefferson cross the finish line of the women’s 100 meter dash final on day two of the 2024 U.S. Olympic Team Track & Field Trials at Hayward Field on June 22, 2024, in Eugene, Oregon.

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Richardson, who for the third time in the meet did not start well and had to make up ground, also finished well in the clear for the third straight race.

She was .09 seconds ahead of training partner Melissa Jefferson, the 2022 U.S. champion. Another sprinter in coach Dennis Mitchell’s camp, Twanisha Terry, finished third and also earned a spot on the women’s 100-meter team.

“I feel honored,” Richardson said. “I feel every chapter I’ve been through in my life prepared me for this moment.”

It has been quite a ride for the 24-year-old Texan. Three years ago, she won this race, too (in 10.86 seconds), only to see the victory stripped because of a positive marijuana test that laid bare everything from her own struggles with depression to an anti-doping rulebook that hadn’t changed with the times.

Richardson has portrayed herself as a new, better and more in-tune person than the one who lit up this same Hayward Field back in 2021 — her orange hair flowing, looking like this sport’s breakout star.

But she stayed home for the Tokyo Olympics, started working on herself both on and off the track. It took nearly two years, but she won the national championship in 2023 and declared “I’m not back, I’m better,” then backed that up a month later with the world title.

It’s risky business to hand her the gold medal in Paris given the competition she’ll be facing. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Shericka Jackson and two-time defending champion Elaine Thompson-Herah have Olympic medals and all are slated to run at next weekend’s Jamaican trials.

A recent injury to Thompson-Herah has mixed up that math and Fraser-Pryce has been a rarely seen commodity in 2024.

It leaves Richardson as the early favorite, and given she bettered the season’s best time despite a mediocre start and pounding her chest and pulling up before the end of the race, it’s hard to argue with that.

Earlier on Saturday, reigning world champion Noah Lyles ran his 100 preliminary heat in 9.92 seconds, the fastest time in the first round of men’s qualifying.

Lyles, like Richardson, dealt with depression in the COVID-fueled days of the Tokyo Olympics. He made it to the games but took a bronze medal in the 200.

“It’s been ‘a long time’ for a long time,” Lyles said. “And I’m just so glad to be happy, glad to be out here, glad to be racing and feeling like myself.”