Bolt, Football, and athletics: Sanya Richards gives insight
Sanya Richards happily wears two hats. Her roots are in Jamaica while her athletic dreams took wings representing US, whose system turned her into one of the finest 400m runners in history. The pinnacle was winning gold at the 2012 London Olympics.
Landing in New Delhi as brand ambassador for Sunday’s Delhi Half Marathon, her father’s message to his daughter who left Jamaica as a young girl that she was heading to the ‘world cricket capital’. Injury scuppered the 33-year-old’s hopes of one last Olympics in Rio 2016, but she and husband, former NFL star, Aaron Ross, run businesses and Sanya also does commentary.
While all this has eased post-retirement anxiety, she is sympathetic with elite athletes like Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, and even when Tiger Woods was out injured, struggling to cope with life away from limelight.
“For every athlete when you go through this transition, leaving behind your beloved sport is really hard. Unless you have a good support system to help prepare yourself mentally for that transition, you don’t know who you are outside of the sport,” she said in a media interaction on Thursday.
Being Jamaican and a track star means the Usain Bolt question will be there, his attempt to turn a professional soccer player post-retirement and the GOAT debate. “I saw Usain score a goal,” she said, before being reminded he scored two for A-League team, Central Coast Mariners.
“It’s incredible… But he is Jamaican, so I shouldn’t have doubted he would have had some exposure to soccer growing up. Looking at Usain, he is a freak of nature, once in a lifetime kind of athlete, and I can imagine it would be kind of hard for him to completely retire from sports. So, to be able to take that pressure off and not be in the limelight for track and field anymore, it may be a way for him to reinvent himself.”
She acknowledges it is tough to pick Bolt from among Jesse Owens and Carl Lewis as the greatest, but “consistency” of winning the 100m in three successive Olympics settles the argument. “Without disrespecting so many of my heroes, I would say Usain may get the nod. Of course, 9.58 and 19.19 (Bolt’s 100m and 200m world records), these are numbers that I didn’t think I would see when I first started.”
Sanya Richards ran 49 races under 50 seconds, with a personal best of 48.70 secs. But still the 400m world record of 47.60, set by Marita Kock in 1985 and one of those under a doping cloud, proved elusive. “I was in two minds,” she began, pointing out historians not favouring IAAF’s plans to take those marks off the books, but now retired, she feels it won’t be a bad idea.
She was also sympathetic with 800m Olympic champion Caster Semenya, but backed IAAF’s push to change the rule and nullify the advantage the South African gets due to naturally elevated testosterone levels.