Just nine days after her self-described disappointing runners-up finish in the 400 metres at the World Championships, Sanya Richards made amends with a stunning 48.92 win that jettisoned the 20-year-old American into the event’s all-time top-ten list.
“I felt great!” she said, sporting a vivacious smile after defeating World and Olympic champion Tonique Williams-Darling, who was a distant second in 49.30. Only eight women have ever run faster than the Waco, Texas-based Richards, who became the ninth to join the sub-49 club. No one has gained membership to that club at a younger age.
“I was disappointed with Helsinki because, I think Tonique ran excellent, but I didn’t execute well,” Said Richards, who reached the finals at last year’s Olympic Games while still a teenager. Breaking into laughter, she added, “And I was having nightmares about that race.”
In the Helsinki downpour, Richards said, she simply went out too fast in the first half of her race. Here, in the less cool and slightly-lighter Zurich cloudburst, Richards said it was just a case of making a minor adjustment.
“In Helsinki I ran 22.9 through the 200, but all year I was going 23.5,” she explained. “So I went out way too fast. And then today I decided I was going to go 23.5, or 23.2 at the most. I got out aggressively, and didn’t pay attention to (Williams-Darling). I let her get away from me a little bit, but I didn’t feel rushed. I just stayed relaxed. And then when I kicked this time I had a lot of run left. Last time when I kicked when I got to the 50-metre mark, I had no legs. That’s what made the difference.”
Despite her disappointment in Helsinki, Richards said she didn’t let that performance get the best of her. For that, she has coach Clyde Hart to thank.
“He kept telling me before this race that I didn’t really do too much wrong in Helsinki, except that I went a little fast. So he didn’t want me to conserve too much and run too slow. He kept trying to keep me encouraged and reiterated that I didn’t make a really big mistake, just a small one and it was easy to adjust it. So I was encouraged by that.”
With Hart’s guidance, the race plan here was simple, Richards said.
“I came out here and just wanted to run my race,” said Richards, whose 49.28 clocking from June’s U.S. Championships paced the world this season. “I didn’t want to get too caught up in how fast Tonique was going, or (Svetlana) Pospelova, because they both get out really fast. And it really worked out. I stayed in my own race. I stayed very relaxed. And when I moved up through 180 [to go] I just kept going and I was able to run home really strong, and that made the difference today.” In the process, she nearly eclipsed Jarmila Kratochvilova’s Weltklasse record of 48.86 from 1982, set more than two-and-a-half years before Richards was born.
As for her first trip into sub-49 territory, Richards said that training partner Jeremy Wariner’s Helsinki victory - his first time under 44 seconds - was a sign she was looking for.
“When Jeremy went 43.9 --in practice we are always five seconds apart-- I knew I could go 48 if he went 43.”
Not yet 21, Richards knows she can go faster, but isn’t dwelling on it.
“The conditions weren’t that great, so maybe in better conditions I can go faster. But I’m just happy with where I’m at now. I’m not looking at times at other meets. I’m just going to enjoy this moment.”
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF