With all due respect to her mother Sharon, Sanya Richards’ sensational 48.70 North American record in the 400 metres tonight at Athens Olympic stadium was clearly a case of “father knows best.”
“I talked to my dad today,” the 21-year-old explained, “and he told me, ‘You’re in lane seven, nobody’s in front of you, and you can execute a perfect race today. So before I got in the blocks, I just blocked everybody out and said I was going to run my best race today and break the American record. And I did that and I’m so happy.”
In an event in which standards are usually broken by hundredths of a second, “crushed” would be a more apt descriptor of Richards’ scintillating performance to become the seventh fastest ever to cover the distance. The previous U.S. and North American record, Valerie Brisco’s 48.83, was set at the 1984 Olympic Games six months before Richards was born. Nobody has run as fast since the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, when Richards was just 11.
Holding a little in reserve
Richards had been chasing Brisco’s mark since dipping under 49 seconds for the first time last year in Zurich, when she clocked 48.92. Although she was the event’s dominant force this year, winning each of her 12 races prior to Athens and winning a $250,000 piece of the Golden League pie, she always came up a bit short in her record assault. Despite her string of victories, that disappointment usually showed.
“I feel as though I haven’t been running to my full potential all year,” she admitted. “With the Golden League I wanted to win every race so I always went out with a little reservation.”
But her father, Archie, a former Jamaican international footballer, noticed something else that was keeping her from the record.
“My dad kept telling me that in every race I kept watching the clock, and that it was slowing me down,” she said. “So I promised him that I wasn’t going to look at the clock. And he told me that when I looked up, ‘be happy’. So he told me everything exactly before it happened.”
Richards said she was shocked when she finally looked at the clock.
“I was hoping I could go 48.80, so to go 48.70, I’m just overwhelmed right now.”
Setting out on a blistering pace from the outset, Richards ran the first half in about 23.8, yet another surprise to Richards,
“No I didn’t think it was that fast,” she said. “The funny thing is usually I come out before my races and mark the track, but weren’t allowed to. So I guess that was a good thing when I’m not exactly sure where I’m at, I run faster.”
Beaming, she was also delighted that more than 30,000 turned out in the Greek capital on an ideal night for athletics.
"The fans came out and it was great"
“Athens is a great place and a lot of people turned out,” she said, adding that she took advantage of the opportunity to see much of the city. “We heard they initially only sold a thousand tickets, and all got nervous, but the fans came out and it was great.”
On Friday, Richards said that first and foremost, she planned to enjoy the team aspect of the World Cup, and true to form, she interrupted her own moment in the spotlight to watch the conclusion of the men’s 400, won by compatriot LaShawn Merritt.
And besides the diligent guidance of her father, she credits her success to her coach, Clyde Hart, who has also guided world record holder Michael Johnson and Richards’ training partner, Olympic and world champion Jeremy Wariner, to greatness.
“Coach Hart always gives us hard workouts the early part of the week and then we kind of taper off, and usually our performances are very good,” she explained. “Coach Hart’s work is really the explanation for my success so far.”
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF
Click here to read Reports of ALL (20) Events contested today in Athens at the 10th IAAF World Cup in Athletics