Is Sha’Carri Richardson the one true global star of Track and Field since Usain Bolt?
It nearly didn’t happen. But as Sha’Carri Richardson anchored the US 4x100m team to victory inside the National Athletics Center in Budapest, beating Shericka Jackson in the process, it felt like she had finally come full circle. Potential meets execution. The confidence multiplied when she crossed the finish line in a new Championship Record of 41.03.
It might not have broken the world record of 40.82, which the USA set in 2012, but it holds so much meaning. More even for Richardson, who until now has had to fight a way back to reckoning, on and off the track. At this point, there is a fair argument that her achievement has accentuated how much she has made Track popular. To the fans and non-fans. In her own little way, she’s beginning to be the global star of the sport.
Two gold and one Bronze is more than a fairly decent way to start the journey on the track. For Richardson, it feels much like getting the monkey off your back. Because God forbid, how does one change the narrative of a thing if you struggle to win in it? That’s the starting point, and her medal haul in Budapest has put her on the right trajectory to command a huge following of fans outside the sport.
After all the trouble in the last two years, Richardson has become reborn. Throughout this year, her performance has been nothing short of exceptional, leaving an indelible mark right from the beginning. The reverberations of her achievements started with a resounding fourth-fastest time ever recorded in the women’s 100m during a spirited spring meet in Miramar. The track seemed to bow to her prowess as she surged forward, leaving spectators in awe.
As if that wasn’t enough, she etched her name deeper into the annals of athletic glory by seizing her first Diamond League victory in Doha. The victory was a celebration of her speed and a testament to her tireless dedication and hard work. With each stride, she propelled herself closer to the summit, reminding the world that she was a force to be reckoned with.
The crescendo of her achievements reached a triumphant peak at the US outdoor championships last month. The echoes of her victory resounded across the Oregon track, where she had faced a bitter setback at the Prefontaine Classic. The same place that had once witnessed her challenges was now illuminated by her triumph. The journey from humiliation to exultation was a testament to her resilience, a reminder that setbacks can be the stepping stones to greatness.
But it wasn’t just the victories themselves that spoke volumes; it was the electrifying moments that accompanied them. Just before the start, she cast aside her orange wig, a symbolic act that seemed to announce her transformation. The young firecracker who had charmed fans with her brashness was evolving, shedding layers to emerge as a seasoned athlete who demanded attention through her prowess alone. It was a flourish that spoke of a new chapter, a metamorphosis that had taken place within her.
Back to Budapest. The question that reverberates everywhere. How popular is Richardson on and off the track? At 23, the American is still a fledgling in the sport, but regardless, it still resonates with many Gen Z’s and Millennials. On the track, she looks a woman made better by her mistakes and wants to take it further.
The standard still remains Usain Bolt. The Jamaican was as big as they came, making athletics better on and off the track. He made people fall in love with the sport with how he approached it. The aesthetics, panache, and results were there for everyone to see. He was an instant celebrity. Showing up at fashion shows, meeting with Presidents, and meeting other great Super Stars. No other athlete can claim to have that sort of appeal that Bolt brought to the Sport.
Richardson seems to be getting close. But the question remains: How much more does she need to do? As she came out of the press conference after her 100m final, there were fans waiting just outside the stadium who wanted to get a glimpse of the American. It almost never happens in Track. Only Bolt had such appeal.
Richardson’s charisma and her talents on the track have helped her gain more followers on Instagram and Twitter, chalking up an extra 500,000 followers on both platforms. So, despite the distance and cultural differences, many Hungarians didn’t think twice before heading to the stadium to watch her race.
One Team USA source who has worked closely with Richardson at the World championships talks about how incredible she is as a person beyond what people see in the media. “She’s unbelievable, she makes a difference on the Track, and she’s a lady with incredible heart. A figure like this is important to the USA and athletics in general.”
So, it’s no surprise to see the Press Conference room filled to the brim anytime she makes herself available to talk to the media and everyone wanting to analyze her every move. A billboard of her in the US says, “I’m not back; I’m better.” A phrase she used after she made the world championships. Her wins in Budapest are just a further claim to how popular she is and is in line to be the next true global superstar of the sport.
Editor’s note: Sha’Carri ended the season with wins in Zurich and a 4th at the Nike Prefontaine Classic. As Deji noted in his fine feature, the crowd in Eugene in 2023 loved Sha’Carri, and she loved the crowd. Stay tuned for 2024 and the road to Paris!