Sanya Richards-Ross Finally Wins Elusive 400-meter Gold
Karen Rosen, USA Track & Field
Sanya Richards-Ross took a deep breath before stepping into the blocks in the women's 400-meter final.
She had waited four years for this moment, ever since she held the lead in Beijing with 100 meters to go, then cramped and faded to third place.
Showing the poise she has waited four years to use to her advantage, Richards-Ross (Austin, Texas), the world's top 400 meter runner, claimed the 400m Olympic gold medal she had long coveted. With it, the 2008 bronze medalist and 2009 world champion joined Hall of Famer Valerie Brisco-Hooks (1984) as the only American to win the event at the Olympic Games. xxx
This time, Richards-Ross would not be denied.
Exactly one hour after the starting gun, she was taking another deep breath on the victory podium as she waited for the national anthem to play in her honor on Sunday night (Aug. 5) at the Olympic Stadium.
"This time when I went on the track, I knew I had to cross the finish line first to call myself Olympic champion," said Richards-Ross, 27, who already had two 4x400 gold medals, but desperately wanted an individual Olympic title. "I had to dig really deep to do that tonight. I'm just so grateful to have this experience. It's just been a phenomenal ride."
Defending champion Christine Ohuruogu of Great Britain, who withstood immense pressure from her countrymen to defend her title in her own backyard, was relieved to come away with the silver. DeeDee Trotter of the U.S. won the bronze and teammate Francena McCorory was seventh.
Richards-Ross had to overcome illness and injuries in the last few years, but never wavered in her desire to be Olympic champion. "I feel very blessed to be living my dream," she said.
Like Richards-Ross, Trotter had waited four years for redemption. She ran on an injured knee in Beijing, advancing to the semifinals. Realizing she was too hurt to run the relay, she missed a chance at a second relay gold medal to go along with the one she took home in 2004.
Another Team USA runner, Justin Gatlin, had waited eight years to get back on the podium.
The 2004 Olympic 100-meter champion, Gatlin served a doping ban, then returned to form and finished third Sunday night behind Jamaica's Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake in the 100-meters.
Usain Bolt's time was 9.63 seconds -- second only to his 9.58 at the 2009 IAAF World Championships -- and he joins Carl Lewis (1984-88) as the only men to defend a 100-meter title. Blake, Bolt's training partner, was second with a personal best of 9.75, followed by Gatlin, with a personal best of 9.79. American record holder Tyson Gay was next at 9.80, with teammate Ryan Bailey in fifth place with a PR of 9.88.
Gay reportedly left the track in tears, coming up empty-handed yet again. Having worked relentlessly to recover from surgery, he has never won an Olympic medal. He finished fifth in his semifinal heat four years ago.
"I knew it was going to be hard for Tyson this season," Bolt said. "For him to come out and make finals, was a big step to show the fighter he is. I always say Tyson is one of the greatest competitors I've ever competed with. He's strong, he's determined, he works so hard."
Richards-Ross, who said she is close friends with Gay, said she would tell him "to keep on keeping on, because his best is right around the corner and I believe that in time, he too will sit where I'm sitting."
Wearing her trademark sleeves, Richards-Ross had an early lead in her race, then the pack caught her before she surged ahead again with about 30 meters to go.
Richards-Ross then waited solemnly until the times flashed on the scoreboard. Her time was 49.55 seconds, with Ohuruogu at 49.70 and Trotter at 49.72. Then she could kiss her husband, grab an American flag and take a victory lap.
"I was almost 100 percent sure I had crossed the finish line first," she said. "When I was coming down the homestretch I felt DeeDee, but I didn't feel Christine, so it wasn't until the last lean that I realized it was also Christine to my right.
"You never want to celebrate until you see your name on top of that list, so to finally have that moment and to see my name, it's really hard to describe that feeling. I was overwhelmed and just really excited."
She was also thrilled that her husband, Jacksonville Jaguars football player Aaron Ross, got permission to leave training camp to watch her compete. Ross has two Super Bowl rings from his time with the New York Giants.
"We'll just continue to try to get as much hardware as possible and continue to push each other to be the best athletes that we can be," she said.
Trotter, 29, of Decatur, Ga., wore her "glitter face," a temporary tattoo in what she called "a phenomenal race for me."
"I've had such a tough journey since my knee surgery in 2008," she added. "And not having that performance that I wanted to have in '08, reminded me to get after it."
Gatlin, 30, of Pensacola, Fla., said he was inspired watching Bolt and Blake as he served his suspension, and then worked his way back to the top.
"I went out there to challenge a mountain," Gatlin said. "I went out there to challenge the odds, not just what I've been through, but the legacy of Usain Bolt. I went out there to be fearless."
Choking up, he said, "Just to be part of an epic race, I just wanted to get on the podium and be there for my country. There were a lot of people in the audience with flags so I wanted to be there for them
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