The presence of Richardson within an elite field may be the one factor that can transform a non-Olympic track meet into a buzzy American sporting event. And so, about two weeks after the conclusion of the Olympics, the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., this weekend will be a buzzy American sporting event. The world’s fastest women will finally have their shot at Richardson and vice versa.
Richardson, 21, captivated at the U.S. Olympic trials in June, when she blew away the 100-meter field, displayed her magnetic charisma and pronounced after a semifinal runaway that “I am that girl.” She appeared poised to be one of the main American Olympic attractions until days later, when it was revealed she had failed a drug test for marijuana, which under the World Anti-Doping Association code invalidated her results and knocked her out of the Games.
The Prefontaine Classic, at which she is slated to run the 100 and 200 meters, will mark her return.
The start lists in Eugene, for a rare Diamond League meet on American soil, teems with stars. Allyson Felix and Gabby Thomas will run alongside Richardson in the women’s 200. Thompson-Herah will be joined in the 100 by countrywomen Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Shericka Jackson, who completed a 100-meter Olympic podium sweep.
Incandescent 800-meter gold medalist Athing Mu, 19, will run that event. Alexandria’s Noah Lyles will race alongside his brother, Josephus, and 400-meter hurdles American record holder Rai Benjamin, who will step down to the 200 meters. Sifan Hassan will attempt to break the 5,000-meter world record fresh off winning gold in the 5,000 and 10,000 and bronze in the 1,500 in Tokyo. Stalwarts Ryan Crouser and Dalilah Muhammad, reigning gold and silver medalists, will compete in the shot put and 400-meter hurdles.
But the headliner, by virtue of star power and curiosity, is Richardson. Richardson heralded her return with a TikTok video that radiated with her effervescent confidence. Lip-syncing to a clip of Nicki Minaj, Richardson looks in the camera from a salon chair with her natural hair and without makeup, explaining she has been away. The screen flashes, and suddenly Richardson is in full track uniform, wearing her trademark brightly colored hair and extended eyelashes.
“It’s game time,” Richardson mouths along to the clip of Minaj, punctuated by an expletive. “You have no idea.”
Richardson’s opponents peaked mentally and physically for the Olympics, and so a letdown couldn’t be held against them. Richardson had to deal with the emotional fallout of her suspension, but she has aimed her training toward the Prefontaine Classic for the past six weeks. It is not quite a fair fight.
It still could be a chance for Richardson to stem Jamaican dominance, albeit on a far lesser stage, and the beginning of a rivalry. At the Olympics, both Fraser-Pryce and Thompson-Herah had little to say about Richardson. Asked about her absence following first-round races, both sprinters offered only “no comment” before walking away from a scrum of reporters.
Richardson could stamp out the notion that her absence from the Olympics carried a sneaky benefit. The argument goes like this: Had she raced at the Olympics, it’s possible she may have lost to all three Jamaican medalists — Jackson’s 10.76 seconds approached Richardson’s season best and beat her trials-winning time — and without an individual medal, Richardson’s star would have only dimmed. Her suspension became a flash point that transcended track and field and only made her more famous. Beating the Jamaicans in Eugene probably would render that argument moot.
On a fundamental level, the appeal of the weekend lies in Richardson taking the first step in preventing a disappointing episode from defining her career. It lies in simply watching Richardson run again — in those explosive strides in the middle of the race, the way she overcomes a slow start and motors even with and then past the field, her vibrant hair flapping behind her.
“I just want to let y’all know, this’ll be the last time the Olympics don’t see Sha’Carri Richardson,” Richardson said in an otherwise apologetic “Today” show interview after he suspension was issued. “And this’ll be the last time the U.S. doesn’t come home with the gold medal in the 100. And I feel sorry for anybody who lines up against me when I come back.”