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Catching Up With Sanya Richards-Ross

By Aimee Berg | May 23, 2013, 10:51 p.m. (ET)

Sanya Richards-Ross approaches the finish line on the way to winning gold in the women's 4x400-meter relay at the London 2012 Olympic Games on Aug. 11, 2012.

Reigning Olympic champion and American record-holder at 400m
Sanya Richards-Ross appears at the press conference for the
adidas Grand Prix on May 23, 2013.

NEW YORK – On Saturday in New York City, Sanya Richards-Ross will compete for the first time since the London Olympic Games where she won her fourth and fifth career medals by taking gold in both the 400 meters and the 4 x 400-meter relay. The former University of Texas star had always imagined that an individual gold medal would change her life, but who knew so much would happen in just nine months?

There was toe surgery last fall, a second procedure this spring, a deal for a reality show, and the unexpected news that her Super Bowl-winning husband Aaron Ross was changing teams.

On Thursday, the American record-holder sat still for a moment to explain. What follows are edited excerpts from her Manhattan press conference.

After Richards-Ross tests her toe at the adidas Grand Prix this weekend, she plans to train for the U.S. outdoor nationals in June and try to qualify for the IAAF World Championships in Moscow in August.

What was the injury that kept you from competing after London?

I had toe surgery in September, and what should have been a two-month recovery was seven months. It’s been a rough road getting to this point.

What was the problem with the toe?

It was my right big toe. I had hallux rigidus. Two bones in that toe were close and they would rub. It’s been a problem for five or six years and it got progressively worse. For the past few years, I’d been taping it and taking shots to be able to compete. I finally had surgery to, hopefully, run pain-free. They went in and shaved down the bones so they’d have more space and flexibility. There’s no screw in there, though, because it would affect my downward motion. Right now, on a scale of 10, I’m about an 8 – with some pain.

What was the complication that turned the two-month recovery into seven months?

After surgery in New York, I should have gone into rehab after about three or four weeks but I was travelling so much post-Olympics that I did rehab on-and-off and built up some scar tissue, so it was a little bit my fault. I had to have a second procedure on the toe in Austin, Texas, in early March. It was a cortisone shot to break up the scar tissue.

Did you consider opening your season at a more low-key event, instead of the Diamond League meet in New York?

No, I feel that in order for me to be ready for the world championships I need to get back on the horse. I don’t think there’s any benefit to running a meet in Texas against competition that’s going to run 53, 54 seconds. I might as well meet the best and, hopefully, they’ll pull me to a great time. This is going to be a fantastic meet. I know Amantle [Montsho of Botswana] and Christine [Ohuruogu of Great Britain] are all here – the past two Olympic champions and the past three world champions so, yeah, right into the fire. Just the way I like it!

What did you do for rehabilitation?

I started back on a machine called the AlterG. It’s [an antigravity] treadmill that you zip yourself into and it allowed me to run with my toe at 50-percent body weight. I was on there for an hour every day doing interval training. A couple of guys were shocked to see me on it that long. They called it the “Sanya G.” That AlterG is serious! I would be doing intervals of three minutes at 14 miles an hour. Three weeks ago, I got back onto the track. Coach [Clyde] Hart was pleasantly surprised at how fit I was.

How has training gone since you’ve been on the track?

The first week was rough with full gravity. The second week got a whole lot better. Last week was fantastic. I put on spikes for the first time yesterday [Wednesday, May 22] so I’m a little bit behind. I missed speed work the most. I still can’t push off the toe the way I want to. But I do feel pretty good.

I’m pretty confident. I won the Olympics last summer, so I’m in a great ‘head space’ and I’m not too concerned about my position here. With the competition and the adrenaline, I hope I forget about the toe and run a great race.

What would be a realistic goal Saturday, time-wise?

If I could run 50-point-something, I would be on track to make the world team. But I’m not trying to put pressure on myself because I really don’t know how I’ll feel. Usually, I have three, four, or five meets before New York. But I’m having fun, and I’ve won the Olympic gold medal, so I will not get stressed out by a performance here.

An individual Olympic gold medal had been your goal for so long; has the aftermath met your expectations?

It exceeded my expectations. To be the reigning Olympic champion for four years is incredible. The reception’s been incredible – even now, in airports. It was so much worth the hard work.

What have been some of the post-Olympic benefits?

The most exciting one is that I have a new reality show, on July 25, “Sanya’s Glam & Gold.” It’s going to be on WE tv at 10 p.m. Eastern. It films my husband and I, my mom and dad (they’re my managers), my cousin (my publicist and stylist), and my sister and I own a business together. I think I’m the boss; she thinks she’s the boss. You get to see some of my training, but a lot more of my personal life. Some of the key moments were: We found out while we were filming that [Aaron] Ross was released from the Jaguars. A couple hours later, the Giants called him. Then, of course, me going through my rehab for my toe. You’ve got to watch the rest.

Is your reality crew here?

My reality crew is not here. We wrapped about one month ago.  We shot six episodes. If it’s successful, we’ll film again in September so I don’t have to film during my [track] season.

Was it hard to get your husband to consent to the show?

It was in the works for four years. Every year, my husband got more and more accepting. I think it brought us all closer together, but he and my dad were the last to get on board.

Three Olympics, five medals, an American record, a world title – at age 28, what’s left?

My ultimate goal is to get closer to the [400-meter] world record which is 47.60. I’d love to run my best at the next Olympic Games. To get under 48 seconds is my goal. I want to dip under that before I retire. I definitely want to compete four more years, then I’m going to start having babies with my honey!

The women’s 400 world record was set by Marita Koch of East Germany in October 1985, nearly 28 years ago. It’s one of the oldest records on the books. Knowing what we do about doping and the suspicion that surrounds those times, is it hard to strive to break a record like that?

It’s such a tough situation to be in as an athlete. It’s a little bit disheartening. But I don’t have control over that so I try not to focus on it. I know I’ll be remembered as a clean athlete.

I did [have a chance to] meet Marita in Monaco, in 2010. She just told me I’m great. We didn’t get a chance to interact a lot.

You were born in Jamaica. Do you ever feel a tug toward Jamaica?

I don’t feel a tug to compete for Jamaica. I’m proud to be American. But I visit Jamaica three to four times a year. I have a foundation there. I was just there for my uncle’s funeral. My aunt [his wife] still lives there. [She’s the last one.]

Was your husband a track runner?

[Aaron] Ross ran all through high school. He ran the 400 one time and said ‘never again’ – which is what most people experience.

Aimee Berg is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.

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Sanya Richards-Ross