Sha’Carri Richardson sent a message before returning to the job on Saturday.
“Aug. 21,” she captioned a video she posted to Instagram this week, “and I’m not playing nice.”
The message was clear: Weeks after a positive drug test cost her Olympic dream, Richardson, in the video and in real life, was ready to run again. However, on Saturday at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, her return to competition at the Prefontaine Classic didn’t go as planned.
Faced with a field that included all three Olympic medalists in her squad, the 100-meter dash, Richardson was beaten badly, finishing last in a time of 11.14 seconds. That was more than half a second behind the time of Jamaica gold medalist Elaine Thompson-Herah.
Thompson-Herah’s compatriot Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce finished second and Shericka Jackson was third, replicating the podium at the Tokyo Olympics. Richardson, running from the Lane 4 spot reserved for the favourite, was out of the fray after just a few steps.
However, in an interview shortly after he finished, Richardson radiated confidence after what was a pretty demoralizing performance.
“It was one race”, she said. “I’m not ready. You know what I’m capable of.”
Richardson’s return to competition came just over two months after she won the 100m in the US Olympic track and field trials, a race many believed would be the first act in a summer star turn. Richardson was an instant sensation – her explosive speed matched her wavy orange hair and her abundance of swagger.
But she was never allowed to run in Tokyo: Richardson then tested positive for marijuana and was disqualified.
Richardson said she was taking the drug to cope with the death of her birth mother, which she had heard of earlier in June. But the consequences were serious: the offense wiped her out in the trials and eliminated her from qualifying for the Tokyo Games. It also carried a 30-day suspension from the competition.
At the time, there was speculation that USA Track and Field, the governing body for the sport in the United States, would try to get her to the Olympics by including her on the 4×100-meter relay team. That race was scheduled for near the end of the Tokyo meeting, after Richardson’s suspension is said to have been complete.
But the rules did not allow for a replacement given her disqualification, and Richardson’s agent, Renaldo Nehemiah, said her team did not lobby US job officials to find a way to include her.
“We never petitioned to participate in the relay,” Nehemiah wrote in an email in early July.
In an interview last month, Nehemiah said that after the drug offense, Richardson needed a break from the overheated spotlight her suspension had created. Her fame only grew with her absence from the Games.
Nehemiah said he and Richardson decided almost immediately to target Saturday’s Prefontaine Classic for her next race, which took place at the same track where she had won the trials.
In an effort to broaden her focus beyond the Tokyo Games, which she would miss, Richardson tweeted about shifting her focus to the major competitions over the next three years, including world championships in 2022 and 2023 and the Olympics in 2012. Paris in 2024.
The march to those events began on Saturday in earnest. But her performance on the track didn’t match her talk about it.
“They’re not done seeing me yet,” Richardson said of her competitors, especially those who doubt her. “Period.”