Sanya Richards-Ross knows how first-time viewers of the women’s 400-meter final at the Olympic Games London 2012 might react to her performance.
“You’ll think, ‘Oh wow, that girl’s out fast,’ and then you might think, ‘Uh-oh…’” she said.
The race will be featured Saturday night at 11 p.m. ET as part of NBCSN’s Olympic Games Week programming. The hour spotlighting the women’s sprints and hurdles in London will also include medalists Allyson Felix, Carmelita Jeter and Dawn Harper Nelson. Return to London ends Saturday and Return to Beijing starts Monday.
Spoiler alert: Richards-Ross, the favorite, surged down the homestretch to win, becoming the first Team USA runner to claim the gold medal in the women’s 400 since Valerie Brisco-Hooks in 1984.
“I think most people might not know my history when watching the race,” Richards-Ross said, “but in 2008 I finished third when I was favored to win. I got out really fast and faded about the last 50 meters.
“So when I was on the start line in 2012, I came into the race very confident. I had won all of my races leading up to that point, but the same was true in 2008, so obviously I had a little bit of anxiety and nerves. I’m like, ‘OK, San, today we’re just going to win this race – not going to try to do anything special, not going to try to run the fastest time ever run in the world. I’m just going to win.’”
Wearing her trademark sleeves – red to match her uniform – and yellow shoes, Richards-Ross was in Lane 6, so she could see her main rivals on the outside: Amantle Montsho, the reigning world champion from Botswana, in Lane 7, and 2008 gold medalist Christine Ohuruogu of Great Britain in Lane 8.
Just like in 2008, Richards-Ross went out hard, a strategy that had always been the key to her success. She was more conservative down the backstretch and “maybe a bit too conservative around the curve,” she said.
Antonina Krivoshapka of Russia, who was in Lane 5, overtook Richards-Ross at 200 meters, and a British television commentator said the American “had a lot of work to do.”
She was well aware of that.
A Furious FinishSanya Richards-Ross crosses the line to win gold in the women's 400-meter at the Olympic Games London 2012 on Aug. 5, 2012 in London.
“With 110 to go, I’m like, ‘This is it.’ I gave it everything I had,” Richards-Ross said.
However, it looked like teammate DeeDee Trotter, who was in Lane 4, was on her way to victory when she passed Krivoshapka.
Then suddenly Richards-Ross began making up ground. She picked off the Russian and then Trotter with about 50 meters to go.
Richards-Ross carried that momentum across the finish line, although she didn’t immediately celebrate. She didn’t even smile.
Richards-Ross wasn’t sure she’d won.
“Up until about 50 meters to go, I couldn’t hear the crowd or anything,” she said, “and all of a sudden the crowd starts to erupt.”
Richards-Ross knew they’d only do that for their own athlete: Ohuruogu.
“I was about 75 percent sure no one had caught me,” Richards-Ross said. “I believed I won, but I just really wanted to see my name up on the scoreboard before I started to celebrate. It was insane how loud the crowd got seeing Christine.”
Ohuruogu, who was dead last at the top of the straightaway, worked herself into second place, with Trotter third.
When the results popped on the screen, Richards-Ross was first in 49.55 seconds, followed by Ohuruogu (49.70) and Trotter (49.72).
While Richards-Ross had a great finish, it was not quite as dramatic as her anchor leg on the women’s 4x400 in Beijing four years earlier when she chased down the runner from Russia.
“There’s something psychological about a relay and having the stick in your hand where you almost feel like the stick is propelling you,” Richards-Ross said.
She again anchored the 4x400 in London, but this time her teammates gave her the baton with a huge lead.
“It was probably one of the most relaxed and most fun races I’ve ever run on such a big stage,” said Richards-Ross, who won her fourth Olympic gold medal (she also won gold on the 2004 4x400). “It was really like a victory lap where I got an opportunity to celebrate all the work my teammates did before me.”
She had told her teammates she was sore after placing fifth in the 200, her other individual event. “My legs were shot,” Richards-Ross said. “I was very happy that they ran so well because I wasn’t sure if I would have had enough to run somebody down on that final leg in 2012.”
Hoping to compete at one more Games, Richards-Ross was plagued by a toe injury and retired after she was unable to finish her heat at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials for Track and Field.
Baby Makes Three
In August 2017, Richards-Ross and her husband, former NFL cornerback Aaron Ross, welcomed son Aaron Ross II, whom they call Deuce or by his nickname, Deucey.
“He swears he’s faster than me,” Richards-Ross said of her 2-year-old, “and every now and then I say, ‘Sorry, kid. Not yet!’”
Richards-Ross created an online platform at MommiNation.com, which describes itself as “The Poppin’ Place for Black Mommies.”
“It was honestly inspired by my athletic career,” she said. “I really believed the reason I was so successful as an athlete was because I had a great support system and a great team of people around me.
“So when I became a mom, it was this dichotomy, because on one hand, you have this person with you that you love so much, and you’re definitely not alone. But when you’re mothering, you’re by yourself and being a mother pulls you away from the other things that you were doing. I was like, am I weird for loving my kid, but wanting to get out of here?”
She decided to create a community specifically for African-American women and moms where they could share their experiences.
The platform has had more than 350,000 views and there are 21,000 followers of the blog’s Instagram page.
While Richards-Ross blogs once or twice a month, she also manages content from about 30 other moms who contribute.
Before the pandemic, Deucey had a nanny, but now the family is sheltering at home by themselves in Austin, Texas.
They are hoping to move to Atlanta, where Richards-Ross and television personality Julissa Bermudez will co-host a news magazine program called “Central Ave” starting Sept. 26 on Fox.
“We’ll cover issues that are happening in pop culture that impact us and we care about, but we go a little bit deeper and investigate these kinds of topics,” said Richards-Ross, whose wedding was featured on a TV program and who starred on her own reality show called “Sanya’s Glam & Gold.” “I want to do more TV, so to have an opportunity to do something outside of sports allows me spread my wings.”
Training Tips During PandemicSanya Richards-Ross reacts after the first round of the women's 400-meter at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field on July 1, 2016 in Eugene, Ore.
Last week, Richards-Ross and her husband conducted a virtual training session on Zoom with about 50 people, mostly high school athletes, and hope to expand to a longer course.
“We have long wanted to do something with young athletes, and neither one of us want to coach,” Richards-Ross said. “We don’t have the patience or disposition for that, but I do feel that we have a wealth of knowledge that we can share with young athletes.”
She compared the coronavirus pandemic to a season-ending injury for athletes.
“Out nowhere you can’t train, you can’t compete,” she said. “Thank God they don’t have to deal with recovering from the actual physical injury, but there is a mental component of losing your season that you do need to prepare for.”
Richards-Ross was all set to be part of the NBC Olympics broadcasting crew for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and is glad the Games will go on in 2021.
“My heart breaks for the athletes, especially older athletes, who are hoping and praying they can get one more Olympics,” she said. “I always say that becoming Olympic champion also requires a little bit of luck. When you’re healthy, your training’s going very well and you had a great season the year before, all those elements matter.
“Who knows what happens a year from now, but we’ll see. At this point we’re all just doing the best that we can and hoping to stay healthy and focusing on things that are really important.”