06 AUG 2012 Feature London, UK

Long ride 'worth the wait' as Richards-Ross claims elusive gold

Sanya Richards-Ross of the United States celebrates winning gold in the Women's 400m Final on Day 9 of the London 2012 Olympic Games on 5 August 2012 (Getty Images)Sanya Richards-Ross of the United States celebrates winning gold in the Women's 400m Final on Day 9 of the London 2012 Olympic Games on 5 August 2012 (Getty Images) © Copyright
At last! After eight years of trying, Sanya Richards-Ross finally wins her Olympic 400 metres title. Even she might admit that 2004 would have been a stretch, when she finished sixth in Athens; but the gold medal definitely seemed destined for her mantelpiece in Beijing 2008, when she was upstaged by the surprise package of the burly Brit, Christine Ohuruogu, and could only finish third. But beating a resurgent Ohuruogu in the Briton’s backyard on Day Three of athletics at London 2012 more than made up for the years of pain.

It was a beaming Richards-Ross who breezed into the press conference to give testimony to her joy and satisfaction. And there was no beating herself up over past failures. "I learned that you don’t win races until you win the race. I’ve had to overcome a lot in the last four years; I’ve had a phenomenal ride. And I feel so grateful.

"It is very, very challenging to come to the Olympic stage and give your best performance and balance emotionally and physically. To come out here and be successful is my ultimate dream come true. It is a huge weight off my shoulders, I kept telling myself, 'you are the champ, you are the champ,’ but to go out there and to actually accomplish it was really tough.

"I got out really well the first 50, then I kind of backed off a little too much down the backstretch. I felt Krivoshopka come up and Montsho kind of get away from me on the curve. I kept telling myself, 'be patient, be patient,’ I got to the 100 metres and there was about four of us across the track, which I’m not used to. I just kept saying, 'you can do this, you can do this’ and I dug really deep and I crossed the finish line first. I’m very happy."

An immigrant from Jamaica at the age of 12, she got US citizenship six years later, just in time to finish second in the world junior 400m, ironically back in her birthplace of Kingston. But there are no regrets, nor even, she says, "divided loyalties" about leaving a nation which was just in the process of becoming the tiny powerhouse of world sprinting.

"I love being part of Team USA, and I know a lot of people back in Jamaica, and it’s amazing what they’ve achieved. They’ve got some great sportspeople and they’ve got some great coaches. It’s so inspiring, I love to see them do well. But, really I feel part of world athletics; I feel I’m doing this for everybody across the world."

Richards-Ross is only the second US woman after Valerie Brisco-Hooks in 1984, to win the Olympic women’s one-lap title. If Team USA wins the 4x400m relay later this week, SRR will become one of the most be-medalled female track runners in US history. "I think we’ve got a great team, a strong team; so I’m really looking forward to it."

She also had some special words for her coach Clyde Hart, who can now boast a trio of Olympic 400m champions, adding Richards-Ross to Michael Johnson and Jeremy Wariner. "Coach Hart is a phenomenal coach. What I’ve done completes his legacy after Michael and Jeremy. And he’s such a humble, sweet man. He’s always been my rock. I dedicate this medal in part to him, for all the hours and hours he’s put in."

After her victory, there were so many people at trackside wanting to embrace and congratulate her. But she eventually made her way to the man she calls 'hubby,’ American Footballer Aaron Ross. "My hubby is my best friend and my greatest supporter. When I saw him, it meant so much to me. He should have been in Jacksonville (training with his new team). There’s no rivalry between us, we’re not trying to outdo each other. We just want to continue to try and get as much hardware as possible between us.

"I love what I do, and I want to keep it going. I grew up a lot since 2008. That has made this a lot sweeter. It was definitely worth the wait."

Pat Butcher for the IAAF