Sanya Richards-Ross wins the 400m in Eugene (Kirby Lee - Image of Sport) © Copyright
After a couple of disappointing seasons due to injury and ill health - including a misdiagnosis of Behcet’s syndrome - the 27-year-old Texan is exactly where she would like to be with the spectre of the U.S. Olympic trials looming.
"Last season I felt my training was nowhere like it was this year," she says through a grin. "I don’t think I fully recovered form the quad injury, whether it was mental or physical, I wasn’t running my best in practice. Two totally different years. My training is going well.
"In 2009 I came to Eugene and ran really well and had a great season so I feel it’s going to be just like 2009."
That was the year to remember. Richards-Ross won the World Championship gold medal in Berlin then finished off the season with an outstanding time of 48.83 in Brussels. That was not far off her American record of 48.70 set three years earlier. To hear her talk in such a positive tone can only mean trouble for the ladies who have one by one beaten her while she has been at less than her best.
The 400m at the Prefontaine Classic, the fourth stop on this season’s Samsung Diamond League series, was solid. Indeed, it had all the appearance of an Olympic final. To beat the reigning World champion from Botswana, Amantle Montsho, and the Jamaican athlete Novlene Williams-Mills, in the same race was exquisite. Moreover, it was an enormous confidence booster.
"Absolutely, you could be doing great things in practice but if it doesn’t show up in the meets sometimes you lack the confidence you need to run well," she explains. "To race this field, the only people missing possibly were Christine Ohuruogu and maybe Allyson (Felix) if she does the 400m. So it was a great field to come out and race and beat today."
"Running 49.39," she added, "means I will keep getting better."
As she spoke her coach Clyde Hart, who also trains 2004 Olympic and three time World 400m champion Jeremy Warner, informed her that her 200m split had been 23.4 seconds. Hart had instructed her to go out in around 23.5 seconds to get an optimum result. Pacing herself in a race is something she admits she has been working on in practice.
"Coach Hart this year has really focused on what we needed individually," she reveals. "For me pacing has been an issue. So coach has worked on my pacing in practice. Looks like Jeremy (Warner) worked on things he thinks he has needed. I really think this is going to be a phenomenal year for us because all of us are into getting our best performances.
"Coach wanted me to be about 23.5 and I was 23.4. I couldn’t have got any closer. And he said I really executed well down the home straight. So I did exactly what he told me to do before I got on the track."
With everything moving so smoothly in an Olympic year she cannot take her foot off the pedal too long to revel in her success. A celebration might be in order she hinted but at the same time she had not intention of getting carried away.
"I am not going to celebrate too much. I did win today and ran really well but it’s not the trials and it’s not the Olympics," she says. "I still have a lot of work to do and I want to keep getting better and better. My husband is here, my mum and dad and sister too, so we will probably have a nice dinner and get back to business tomorrow."
Business for Richards-Ross means training at her base in Waco, Texas. Most of the time it’s with Jeremy Wariner but always under the watchful eye of Hart who coached another outstanding pupil at Baylor University, the World 400m record holder Michael Johnson. Hart has enormous experience. And in the time she has allowed him to mentor her they have their share of ups and downs especially the past two seasons.
Coach Hart: 'Neither one of us gave up the confidence’
"Sanya is a very motivated person and we all have a tendency to get down but Sanya doesn’t stay down for long," says Hart of her fall from the top rank.
"We had to be patient and keep in mind that she was still very young and it was not going to be an insurmountable task to get back there. We just had to get her healthy and get her training going right and it would come back. Neither one of us gave up the confidence that we would be there."
Credit also must go to her husband, Aaron Ross, a professional American football player currently with the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars. They met at the University of Texas in Austin. He was a member of the New York Giants team in 2008 when they won the Super Bowl. They understand each other’s needs athletically and emotionally. Should she qualify for the U.S. Olympic team - and there’s every indication she is up to the task - Aaron will be in London with her.
For now she must get back to business, continue to improve as the season progresses and keep her mind focused on winning the gold. She took home the bronze in Beijing four years ago and was bitterly disappointed.
"I know I am in the best shape I have ever been in," she confirms. "My training has indicated that. Like I said I think I think I have the best coach in the world and we are able to maintain our peak for the entire season. Running 49.39 means I will keep running this way and getting better."
And that’s not good news for her opposition.
Paul Gains for the IAAF