The main prerogative of the IAAF World Youth Championships is that of discovering new faces and new talents of the sport. And what an amazing talent we met today in Sherbrooke.
Jason Richardson is a tall and slim young man of 17 who in the space of less than four hours has established not just one but two World Youth Best performances. First he clocked an amazing 50.95 seconds to win the third heat of the 400m Hurdles; then he dominated heat two of the 110m Hurdles in a new personal best of 13.39.
Very articulate and always smiling, it is pleasure to talk to this American youngster. Earlier this year, the Texas based athlete had already completed the Hurdles double at the national youth championships where he ran a life time best of 50.72 in the 400m Hurdles. But that was at the higher hurdles, as he calls them.
“I struggled a bit today because I am not used to running with the small hurdles,” said Richardson after his 110m Hurdles. “My main goal today was to try and adjust to the small hurdles as best as possible. I will try and run in the lower 13 in the final.”
The Youth hurdles measure 91 centimetres in the 110 and 84 centimetres in the 400 and one would think that the obstacles being lower would make it easier for the competitors. But that is not the case for Richardson who brilliantly takes on every challenge that crosses his path.
The son of a civil engineer and a secretary, Richardson has no family background in track and field. He took up the sport when he was in 7th grade because he learnt he could get an athletics scholarship if he performed well.
“I want to go to school for free and I think athletics will help me in this. I see my life as a two paths road. I want to be a lawyer first and I also want to be an Olympian. I believe I can be capable of succeeding in both, it obviously looks like a Utopian world but why not?”
Richardson is almost ashamed when he confesses that he only trains two to three times a week. “It’s really not much I know but I have so many other things going on in my life,” he smiles.
And the one occupation, apart from athletics - of course - that occupies his mind most of the time is debate. His eyes sparkle when he is asked to explain what debating consists of and he starts telling us every single detail about the complicated but fascinating rules of a debate competition.
“I debate for my school which I represent on a national scale. We tour around the country and debate in different cities. We are usually given two months to prepare a debate. During that period I read a lot of books, I surf the internet, I just try to get as much information as possible.
“Then the actual debate lasts 45 minutes. It is extremely interesting because you have to defend your positions but also counter the others’ ideas. You have to be clever enough and learn how to control yourself. In Texas, for example, they usually speak very fast but when you travel outside the state you need to adjust your style in order to impress the local judges.
"Debate is good because it makes people think you are smart! My favourite subject? Calculus, definitely.”
Intelligence is most certainly the number one quality of Richardson, who will be the hot favourite for a Hurdles double here in Sherbrooke. And indeed, his debating experience does seem to help him a lot on the track.
“It helps me remain calm. It helps me remain focused. I think a lot during my races. I usually have poor starts so I need to concentrate on how to catch up with the others. Today I was concentrating on hitting the ground as fast as possible, to get into a good rhythm. I didn’t know whether the guy on my inside was going to accelerate or slow down so I was also keeping an eye on him.
“See, that is how fast you have to think in debate as well,” concluded a delighted Richardson. “It’s like an in-depth analysis, you have to explain why you make such and such a decision, you have to give the reasons for your choices.”
Richardson says he will feel no pressure when lining-up for his finals even though he is reminded of his status as favourite for winning both. An admirer of Allen Johnson and Terrence Trammell, Richardson also confesses that his preference would go to the high hurdles race.
“The final here in Sherbrooke will be an interesting one. It will be just 45 minutes after my 400m Hurdles semi-final so I will certainly not run at 100% of my capacities. But I am not afraid of doubling as I am used to it. I have competed in several US meets where in addition to my individual events I also ran the relays.”
A very good sprinter as well – “I run the 100m in 10.4 hand timing” – Richardson has a remarkable philosophy of life despite his still young age.
“Even if I lose, it is not going to be a big deal. It happens to everyone to lose races, it’s part of life. What is important is the integrity of the contestants. I have no problem to lose to a guy whom I respect and who respects me.”
Richardson will return to the track tomorrow afternoon – 400m Hurdles semi finals and 110m Hurdles final – and Saturday afternoon – 400m Hurdles final – in what could well become the stadium of his first international successes.
“In the long run I want to prove that one can be sharp both mentally and physically.”
Through his words and his kindness, Jason Richardson has already proven that he is on the right path to achieve all his goals. His is definitely a name to remember!