Sha'Carri Richardson competes at the USATF Outdoor Championships on July 25, 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Each Tuesday leading up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, which will be held in the summer of 2021, TeamUSA.org will introduce you to an athlete you should know prior to Tokyo – as part of the “Tokyo Tuesday” series. There’s a lot to learn on your quest to becoming the ultimate fan. Follow along on social media with the hashtag #TokyoTuesday.
If you Google “fastest girl in Texas,” the name Sha’Carri Richardson comes up. You can understand why after you see the Dallas born sprinter has an impressive Olympic stat, despite never competing at a Games.
As a college freshman at LSU — who made the decision to go pro after only one year — she clocked the fastest 100-meter time in NCAA history, a time that would have taken a top podium finish at every Olympics, with the exception of two.
Now setting her sights on Tokyo — and the title of “fastest girl in the world” — TeamUSA.org spoke with the 20-year-old Richardson after practice at her training facility in Florida. She shared what she’s doing to prepare for 2021 that is sure to have track fans focusing more on her times and less on her trademark colored hair and long nails.
You turned pro last summer. How has the transition from college to professional athlete been?
At first I was conflicted about the decision, due to the fact that I felt like I was leaving a place that grew to be very dear to me. And I knew that to get to the next level I had to make myself uncomfortable, meaning push myself to a limit I hadn’t pushed myself to before.
So you’re happy with your decision then?
Training here with [coach] Dennis Mitchell has been one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. I love that he’s a coach that’s going to make sure you’re the athlete you tell him you want to be, on and off the track. I’m glad I came. It’s a great environment for training.
How are you adjusting to the heat in Florida?
The weather in Florida is, oh, so interesting. Nobody can predict this weather. I promise you, even if they try, they’re not right. It can be raining or shining, or both at the same time. And it’s always humid. The temperature is the same as it was at LSU, except the humidity here is higher. It is always humid here. But I feel like it’s getting me ready for all types of climates.
Speaking of hot and humid, how are you feeling in the lead-up to Tokyo?
I am feeling great. Right before COVID hit I was feeling the best I have ever felt — better than at nationals last year. I was ready to go and perform. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster but I am back in the groove feeling like, okay, this is still the goal at the end of the day. My coach reiterates it to me every day of what still needs to get done, so I am making sure every day counts and every day is a step towards Tokyo. When that day comes I will be prepared.
What are you doing to prepare?
I’ve told Dennis I want to work on my weaknesses and attack those areas. And then work on getting better on the areas that I feel are good. Off the track we are working on how to handle different scenarios that are being thrown at me on this level now. Being young is another thing I have to factor in, which my coach makes sure to remind me of every day.
You have become known for your colorful hair and long fingernails. What started that?
I’ve had them like that since high school.
I saw that you have a name for every hair color: Lil C Rich is the red hair, La Nay is the blonde, and Sha’Carri is dark. What determines which color you wear?
Honestly, the color is based off how I want to feel. Like the red puts me in a very dominating mood. And sometimes I feel like that can be overwhelming, so when I need to calm down — like right now — I have black hair. The black calms me, and makes me blend in instead of being extra. The blonde is for when I’m going home to Texas. Or I’ll wear it when I am away from home and wanting to feel like home.
What about the long nails? What’s the story behind them?
I wear my nails because I love to express myself. I feel like my nails show who I am, and that’s that I am different but I can still get the job done.
You’ve never nicked a teammate with them, scratched Justin Gatlin?
Maybe one or two times, but only by accident. [Laughs] It was probably because I move too fast. But I’ve never had a problem getting in the blocks or running down the track.
Do you have masks to match your hair, or nails?
I do have some colorful masks. One did match my nails at one point. It was purple and sparkly and my nails were like a midnight sky galaxy look. It was really cute.
So how have you been keeping busy during the pandemic?
Luckily I’ve still been able to train. I’ve started reading a little more, books about self-awareness and motivational books. Other than that, I’ve just been training and only going out to the stores when it’s necessary. My life hasn’t changed too much since the pandemic hit.
What is the first thing you’re going to eat once the season is over?
Pizza! I am depriving myself of pizza right now, so I cannot wait to go and get pizza. Now you got me excited.
If you weren’t doing track, what would you be doing?
I would still be in school, studying to become a sports psychologist.
You’ve talked publicly about your past — being abandoned by your mom and trying to commit suicide in high school. How do you keep your mental health in check?
I have a therapist, and during the pandemic we’ve been doing Zoom calls, or text messages if I need to talk. He comes up with little tactics, or different advice that helps me.
What would you want someone to know about the struggles of professional athletes?
I would want them to know that we go through things, too. We are human, just like they are. We just happen to run a little faster and be a little stronger. But at the end of the day we all want to be heard and understood.
You speak out a lot about Black Lives Matter. Why is that important to you?
It is important for me to speak out because I am a proud black woman. Before I am a proud black athlete, or anything else, I am black. And that is something that is very dear to me. And it is something that inspires me to be great in life because of it.
To you, what does it mean to be black in America?
Being black in America to me is a curse, but it is also a blessing. Because being black in America we strive even though we have been suppressed for centuries, somehow we’ve still been able to overcome and thrive. But in this day and age we will not stand for the things that our ancestors did.
What do you think other people can do to encourage change in society?
Become a better you everyday. Whatever you can do, whatever voice you have, use it to see change. Even a kind act could make a difference and could trigger change. Every day could be a way to impact the movement in a positive way.