EUGENE, Ore. — Whether watching from Jamaica, Japan or the U.S, it was hard to miss that shock of flowing, orange hair that came streaking across the finish line first in Eugene on Saturday night.
It belongs to Sha’Carri Richardson. And after the eye-opening show she put on at Olympic trials — blowing away the field in the 100-meter semis in a wind-aided 10.64 seconds, then again in the final in 10.86 — she figures to grab her fair share of attention next month in Tokyo.
With her performance, the 21-year-old out of LSU picked up a spot in the Olympics and a national title while also setting up a possible showdown with the Jamaican world champion, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.
An over-the-limit tailwind prevented the 10.64 from becoming official and leaving Richardson only 0.01 behind Fraser-Pryce’s top time of 2021. But the season is far from over. The world record of 10.49 was set by Florence Griffith Joyner in 1988.
“She carries such a firecracker,” said Richardson’s training partner, Justin Gatlin. “She’s capable of running 10.6. I’ve seen her at practice, and she’s capable of running 10.5, actually. She can definitely shock the world.”
Richardson overcame a slow start to pass Javianne Oliver, who started in the lane next to her, and beat her by three body lengths and 0.13 seconds. Teahna Daniels finished third.
About the only question surrounding Richardson this week was what color hair she’d bring to the starting line. Style is part of her game. She says she’s proud to sport long nails, too, just like one of her idols — Griffith Joyner.
While Richardson’s blazing speed made her close to a sure thing in the women’s 100, the men’s sprint is nowhere near as settled.
The race for the three Olympic spots in their crowded 100 could be the best battle of the meet. They ran their qualifying heat Saturday, and all the “big” names made it through. That now includes Fred Kerley, whose main distance is the 400 meters but who made the 100 more interesting when, on the heels of a 9.91 earlier this season, he decided to be a short sprinter for this Olympic cycle.
“The bigger plan is still 400 meters for the next coming years,” Kerley said. “Right now, I’m focusing on getting everything correct and getting up my speed up so I can make history.”
He made it through his heat, and now Gatlin (the former Olympic and world champion) and Trayvon Bromell (this year’s world leader at 9.77), and star-in-the-making Noah Lyles, whose chances are more secure in the 200, have something to worry about as they approach Sunday’s finals.
Or maybe not.
“Everything is in preparation for the 200 as far as I’m concerned,” said Lyles, the world champion at 200 meters, in his strongest indicator yet of where his mind really rests for this meet.
That packed field does not include the reigning world champion, Christian Coleman, who is banned this year because of a doping violation that stemmed from a series of missed tests and a failed appeal to have the suspension overturned.
Coleman’s fate is sealed. Defending Olympic champion hurdler Brianna McNeal’s is not. She, too, has an appeal on a whereabouts case pending, but international officials are letting her run here while the case is decided.
“I want to cry right now,” she said after winning her qualifying heat in the 100 hurdles. “You guys don’t understand how much I’ve been going through this year. I’m just very emotional.”
In Saturday’s only other final, Valarie Allman won the discus throw to make the Olympic team, while in the women’s 400 semis, Allyson Felix stayed on track to make her fifth team by qualifying for Sunday’s final.
Richardson will be a first-timer, poised to square off with Fraser-Pryce, who has six Olympic medals, including the gold in the 100 in both 2008 and 2012. Jamaica’s Olympic qualifying is next weekend, though nobody’s doubting Fraser-Pryce — aka “The Pocket Rocket” — will skate through.
The 34-year-old mom has also been known to bring out brightly colored hair styles for her biggest events. Looks like she’ll have competition from Richardson on that front, too.