U.S. Olympic track and field trials: Aaron Ross, Sanya Richards-Ross united by medals, rings
By Rick Maese,
Richards-Ross was in the stands when her husband started at cornerback for the New York Giants in two Super Bowls. Both games went down to the wire.
“I was like, ‘Please, I’m gonna have a heart attack,’ ” Richards-Ross said.
And when Richards-Ross, one of the best American sprinters heading to the Summer Games, gets ready for the starting blocks, her husband is usually in the stands, though with a slightly different demeanor.
“I’m pretty much never nervous,” he said, “as long as she believes she can win.”
After signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars as a free agent this spring, Ross wrapped up his offseason workouts with his new team earlier this month and is in Eugene for the U.S. Olympic track and field trials this week, where his wife is trying to set the stage for a historic trip to London.
Richards-Ross, 27, qualified for her third Olympics last week in her signature event — the 400 meters — finishing in 49.28 seconds, the fastest time posted by anyone in the world since 2007. She begins competition Thursday night in the 200 meters, with finals slated for Saturday. She holds the world’s fastest 200 time since 2010, finishing in 22.09 seconds in New York earlier this month.
Richards-Ross is trying to join elite company. Only three runners have managed to win Olympic gold in both the 200 and the 400: American Michael Johnson and Marie-José Pérec of France, both in 1996, and American Valerie Brisco-Hooks in 1984. Richards-Ross is coached by Clyde Hart, who also coached Johnson on his memorable quest for the grueling 200-400 double at the Atlanta Games in 1996.
“I know it’s going to be tough,” she said. “Every athlete that has attempted it, you can see it’s not an easy task. But I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Richards-Ross was born in Jamaica but moved to Florida when she was 12 and became a U.S. citizen when she was 17. She later ran for the University of Texas, where she met Ross, a member of the Longhorn football team. The two were both driven athletes and workout fiends. Ross was immediately impressed by Richards-Ross’s work ethic.
“When I first met her and found out how many abs she did a day, that was crazy,” he said. “She got me doing my abs.”
Said Richards-Ross: “My husband really balances me out. I’m kind of high-strung and bouncing off the walls and all over the place. He is so calm.”
Between them, the couple has two Super Bowl rings, two Olympic gold medals and one Olympic bronze, an NCAA football national championship and five gold-medal world track titles.
Their relationship is traceable on a sports calendar. Dating when Ross started in Super Bowl XLII. Engaged before Richards-Ross competed in the Beijing Games. Married by time Ross started in Super Bowl XLVI. And now that Richards-Ross is London-bound, the couple is in the midst of a move to Jacksonville.
Ross, 29, signed a three-year contract with the Jaguars in March. Richards-Ross has been busy training in Texas since then, so the cornerback has been in charge of relocating the couple from New York. Ross picked out their new home, and he’s solely responsible for the decorating.
“I trust him,” she said.
Already Ross’s coaches have excused him for part of the Jaguars' training camp in August, so he can travel to London and cheer on her wife.
“Coach [Mike] Mularkey and Gene [Smith], the GM, they didn’t hesitate not one bit when I asked them if I could go,” Ross said.
For Richards-Ross, it wouldn’t be the same without her husband in the stands. As she prepared for the 400 last week, Richards-Ross was again a bundle of nerves. She spotted her husband and his message to her was simple: “Execute.”
“I tell her all the time: ‘I see you train every day, I see what times you put out there,’ ” he explained later. “‘So just execute and you’ll be just fine.’”
She blew away the field, running 0.74 seconds faster than second-place finisher, Dee Dee Trotter. At the post-race news conference, Ross tried to hang in the background, watching his wife enjoy her big day. He couldn’t stay hidden very long. “Shoutout to my baby in the back!” Richards-Ross told the room.
She’ll have to tear through a talented field this week in order to qualify in a second event. The start list in Thursday’s qualifying races includes Allyson Felix, Carmelita Jeter, Kimberlyn Duncan, Jeneba Tarmoh and Tianna Madison.
One person who won’t be lining up against Richards-Ross any time soon is her husband. When Ross entered the NFL in 2007, he posted one of the fastest 40-yard dash times of any incoming rookie (4.44 seconds). But he says he's never raced his wife.
“I don’t want to race her,” he said with a smile. “Right now, she believes I can beat her so I’m gonna leave it at that.”
Note: It doesn’t appear last Saturday's third-place tie in the women’s 100 meter will be resolved until this weekend.
U.S. Track and Field Association officials have met with Felix and Tarmoh, who both finished the race in 11.07 seconds, but there does not appear to be any immediate decisions on how to break the tie.
Only one of the two can compete in the 100-meter race in London, and that final spot will be determined by either a run-off or a coin flip, depending on the athletes‘ preferences, according to a new set of procedures established in the wake of the remarkable finish.
USATF officials say they’ll meet again with the runners at the conclusion of the women’s 200 meter this Saturday. Both Felix and Tarmoh are expected to race in the 200.
An announcement on how the 100 meter will be resolved is expected Saturday night or Sunday morning, and officials hope to have it settled before the trials concluded Sunday afternoon.
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