Half way around the globe, the moment of truth has arrived for defending 400m World Champion Sanya Richards-Ross. “I know how well my training’s been going and I’m just going to go out and execute. I am very confident that I’m going to run well and defend my title,” expressed the Women’s 400m American Record Holder.
Currently in Daegu, Korea, this year’s host city for the IAAF World Championships of Track & Field, the Austin, TX native, who counts five previous World Championship appearances on her resume, eagerly awaits her 6th and first after finally winning her first major title in the 2009 Berlin World Championships. “I’ve been to many championships before and I have sometimes been the favorite and sometimes I’ve not been. It’s really not about that for me. I’m just excited to be back running close to where I was,” stated Richard-Ross, who when asked as to the pressure of the moment responded, “this year I don’t feel that pressure [of Berlin], I have accomplished it once before and I know I can do it again.”
The Texas Longhorn alumni enters the race incredibly strong having just set the world’s second fastest 400m time of 49.66 in London on August 6th after an arduous and challenging season returning from multiple quad and ankle injuries in 2010. “My body definitely feels like it is getting back under me. I think the injury took more of a toll on my body and of course I think extremely on my mental more than anything,” explains Richards-Ross who further states, “I felt like every race was just putting me a little bit closer to kind of reminding my body of what it felt like to run a 50-second 400 or faster.”
And in order to defend her title, the 2-time gold medal Olympian will have to most assuredly be at her fastest this season as she faces stiff competition from Botswana’s Amantle Montsho and fellow American sprinter Allyson Felix who seeks to double in 200 and 400 at this year’s World Championships. Having failed to qualify for the 200m team at this year’s USA Outdoor Championships earlier in June, Richards-Ross asserts she is “definitely not giving up on that dream. It’s going to be a daunting, daunting task, but I hope to be fully healthy and to be up to the challenge.” However, the defending World Champion finds solace in her 200m defeat and explains, “I was forced to focused on just the 400 which is actually nice because no matter what you say you have to spend time on both events and that does take away little bit of the preparation for the 400.”
That singular focus has now served her well and after crossing the line first in London in her signature strong closing fashion just three short weeks ago. Primed for a timely peak performance of the season, Richards-Ross reveals, “In the races prior, I kept kind of holding my kick to hopefully have it show up down the home stretch and that’s not really how I run my race, so I just really went back to my old race plan …[and] it paid off.” The owner of the most sub-50 second races in women’s history, also believes the proximity of the race schedule, which begins at 8:05pm on Saturday, August 27th and culminates in the final round at 9:05pm on Monday August 29th, will “prove who really has the best fitness.”
Richards-Ross believes she is finally ready and marks the turning point in her season as her July 30th 200m race. “When I ran in [Budapest] Hungary, it was much different. I felt like myself the last 100. I felt on top of the track, I felt light and faster.” In addition to a return to her optimum physical form, the defending champion also draws from a wealth of experience recalling “I have so many experiences, good and bad at the World Championships and at major meets. I’m going to use that to be able to run well through the rounds and then go out in the final and execute a great race. I am very, very excited. I haven’t been this excited for a major championship in a very long time.”
But new to the experience this year is the mandatory drug testing of all athletes as a requirement for competition eligibility. “I am really, really happy that they are testing every single athlete this year at the World Championships. In the past it’s been random, so that means everyone wasn’t tested and this year you are responsible to go there and get your blood test 48 hours after you land in Korea. If you don’t do it you cant compete. I definitely love that. I love that they’re making a bold statement that every athlete that’s here would be tested and will be clean,” demonstratively expresses Richards-Ross.
The doping suspensions of athletes remain a highly divisive issue that has Richards-Ross, who counts friends among those who have served two and four year suspensions, “of two minds on the subject.” “Having known Justin Gatlin and know LaShawn Merritt, I think they’ve served their time and I think they should have an opportunity to compete,” states Richards-Ross who further explains, “but one part of me also at one point did think, once you cheated once, you shouldn’t be allowed to compete, you know, you gave up that right. It’s just a tough subject. I don’t think any way is right. We just need to have a rule and stick with it.”
At this moment, the United States Olympic Committee is challenging the IOC’s revised ruling to the Olympic Charter adopted in 2008 after the Beijing Games that prohibits athletes who served doping bans in excess of six months from competing in the Olympic Games. A rule which Richards-Ross understands but still remains “happy that LaShawn Merritt is back and really happy that Justin Gatlin was able to after four years come back and make the team. Everyone makes mistakes.”
And unfortunately for fellow teammate and Richards-Ross friend, USA Men’s 100m hopeful Mike Rodgers, will also have to sit out this year’s World Championships after mistakenly drinking an energy drink and testing positive for a banned stimulant. “I thought he was going to be able to still compete here…that’s really unfortunate,” informs Richards-Ross who spoke with the sprinter earlier.
But Richards-Ross remains resilient as she seeks to anchor the Women’s 4 x 400m relay team to victory in addition to defending her World’s 400m Championship.