Sha’Carri Richardson has been repeating a mantra since returning to the track this season: She’s not back, she’s better.
Richardson, 23, delivered the ultimate “I told you so” on Monday in Budapest by winning her first title at a world track and field championships, running 10.65 seconds to win the 100 meters. Shericka Jackson of Jamaica was second, in 10.72, and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, also of Jamaica, was third, in 10.77.
With her victory, Richardson both softened and amplified the noise that has surrounded her since she burst on the professional running scene.
She got here by finding her peace, she said at a news conference at the Los Angeles Grand Prix in May.
“These last three years, I’ve shown you what I can do,” Richardson said. “It just was me that was standing in my way. Now I’m with myself.”
That has resulted in some of her fastest times.
She opened her outdoor season in April, running a wind-aided 10.57. (The time would have been considered her personal best, but the tailwind was above what is allowable for records.) The next month, she won the 100 meters at a Diamond League meet in Doha, Qatar, defeating Jackson of Jamaica, an Olympic and world championship podium mainstay. She defeated Jackson again in July at a Diamond League meet in Poland.
The national championships in Eugene, Ore., where she could qualify for her first world championships after failing to do so in 2022, was finally on the horizon.
It was there, at Hayward Field, in June 2021, that Richardson became a sensation. She had run 10.72 — what was then the sixth-fastest women’s 100 meters in history — a few months prior, and stepped into stardom when she won the 100 meters at the national championships with a dominant performance, finishing in 10.86.
This year’s national championships — a qualifying meet for the world championships — would be different. She made sure to prove that as soon as she stepped on the track for the first round of competition on July 6.
Richardson ran a remarkable 10.71, a personal best at the time. She seemed to even pump the brakes before the finish line, holding her hands down as if she needed gravity to keep her spikes on the track. She cruised through the semifinals, advancing to the final round with a time of 10.75. The next-fastest seed time heading into the final was 10.96.
Richardson had been wearing an orange wig through the first rounds, what she wore during much of her 2021 season. She wore the same wig as she ran through the qualifying heats and the semifinals, and added a green headband when she walked into the stadium for the 100-meter final last month. When her name was announced, she pulled on her headband to take the wig off. She threw it behind her and looked forward. The crowd roared. She won in 10.82.
“Last time I was really here in a big stadium I had my orange hair and I wanted to show you guys that I’m still that girl but I’m better. I’m still that girl but I’m stronger. I’m still that girl but I’m wiser,” she said to Tiara Williams in an interview posted on Instagram after she secured her spot in Budapest.
Her debut on the world championships stage on Sunday could not have gone better. Richardson cruised to a win, slowing in the final few meters as she mimicked wiping sweat from her brow. She won her heat with a time of 10.92, and once again led the field into the semifinals. Only three of the 54 sprinters in the opening heat went below 11 seconds.
In her semifinals, a slow reaction time had Richardson off to a unpromising start. She was able to finish in 10.84, but unable to secure one of the two automatic qualifying slots after finishing third behind Jackson and Marie-Josée Ta Lou. It was quickly clear that her time would move her to the finals.
She said her goal for this year was to “to do what I should have done in these last two years already.”
When she stepped into the starting blocks for the final, the opportunity was right in front of her.
And then, 10.65 seconds later, she had grabbed it.