Sanya Richards at the DKB-ISTAF press conference on the eve of the AF Golden League kick-off in Berlin (Bob Ramsak) © Copyright
General News Berlin, Germany

Aiming for Jackpot repeat, Richards ready to go - ÅF Golden League

Sanya Richards opens another ÅF Golden League season here tomorrow (14) convinced that a subtle change in her preparation could bring an end to her misery at global championships. Richards has yet to win a World or Olympic title at 400m despite finishing each of the last four seasons as the world No. 1.

If all goes to plan, Richards will run a winning time of around 49.5sec in the DKB-ISTAF Berlin meeting this weekend and return to the Olympic Stadium in August to take the gold medal at the 12th IAAF World Championships.  “My No.1 goal this year is to be competitive and run really well at the World Championships,” Richards said at an eve of ÅF Golden League press conference today.

Since finishing sixth as a junior at the 2004 Athens Olympics, Richards has placed second at the 2005 Helsinki World Championships, fifth in the 200m at the 2007 Osaka World Championships after failing to make the United States team at 400m, and third in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“Winning the Olympic gold medal would have meant 100 times more to me than being ranked No1 in the world,” Richards reflected today. “Every four years you train really, really, really hard to achieve it and so I was extremely disappointed to not win the gold medal. But I’m only 24 and I hope to stay competitive, stay strong, and have another shot in 2012 (at the London Olympics).”

In the meantime, Richards is looking at separating herself from the US team at the World Championships and finding a quiet place to stay, along with her mother and manager, Sharon, and massage therapist Adrik Mantingh. The prospect follows the hamstring cramp she suffered in the Olympic final when in sight of victory and the knowledge that she hasn’t lost a Golden League 400m since she was a circuit novice in 2004.

“I talked to a lot of people about it and they all said the same thing,” Richards said.  “I felt so much pressure and I went into that race so nervous that I really locked up. Something tightens up when you’re overwhelmed. I don’t think I had a hamstring injury, or any physical strain there, but it was more just the mental pressure.

“I might not stay with the team at the World Championships and just stay with my family, trying to create the atmosphere of the Golden League meets, when everything is light and fine. I think the best thing for me will be to step back, do those things, and hopefully I will have the same results. I put so much pressure on myself and I don’t feel the same pressure at the smaller meets.

“I think that is the fundamental change for this season. I trust coach (Clyde) Hart 100 per cent. I know that I am always physically prepared for my races so we haven’t changed much. I’m just giving even more of myself in practice.”

Richards said that she was pleased to have World and former Olympic 400m champion Jeremy Wariner back in the Clyde Hart training camp at Waco, Texas, after a one-year absence. “Training with Jeremy makes a huge difference,” Richards said. “I thoroughly enjoy training with him. When we were together, in 2006 and 2007, I thought we were an amazing team so I was disappointed when he left in 2008.

“It feels like he never left, we are training really well together and I think it gives us a little edge we might have missed in 2008.”

While two Russian Olympic finalists, Yuliya Gushchina and Tatyana Firova, are in opposition to Richards tomorrow, the notable absentee is Great Britain’s Olympic and World champion, Christine Ohuruogu, a rare visitor to the Golden League circuit. It is a strategy that clearly works for the Briton but Richards is not so desperate as to copy her. 

“I find that I feel better, and I’m more successful, when I run more,” Richards said. “I think that coach Hart has proven over the years that the more we run the faster we get, so I don’t think I was ever tempted to run fewer races.

“Christine is able to run 2 or 3 races then come out and do the major championships and it definitely works for her. But I enjoy competing, I love to run, that’s why I do what I do. I don’t think I could ever imagine running only two or three races a season. I think I would pull my hair out. The work is just way too hard.”

Having shared in the $1m Golden League jackpot in 2006 and 2007, by winning all six of her races in each season, Richards was unable to contest it last year as the women’s 400m was not a Golden League event.

“I would love to share in the jackpot again but that is definitely my secondary goal for this season,” Richards said, repeating the point that the World Championships matter above all else.

Richards is also mindful that she missed out on a 400m place at the US trials for the 2007 World Championships and is taking nothing for granted this year. “Tomorrow will be my final race before the nationals and I want to run a strong race and go into my nationals feeling very confident,” she said.

David Powell for the IAAF