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Richards takes 400-meter, heads for $1m

31 August 2006

Sanya Richards (Image of Sport) Sanya Richards (Image of Sport)
By Stephanie Hay

Sanya Richards, the 5'8" engineering major at Texas who has wowed crowds since her junior days in 2002, will be running for gold Sunday in Berlin. But this gold isn't just a medal - it's a $1 million jackpot for athletes who outperformed their competition throughout the Golden Leagues this year. Richards is one of only four in contention.

The 400-meter sprint is her specialty, and she has accolades to prove it. Richards, who was born in Jamaica, is a 2006 USA Indoor and Outdoor champion and has gold and silver medals in Outdoor from 2005. Also in 2005, she became the second-fastest American in history and the youngest woman ever to run sub-49 in that event.

Before that, the 21-year-old Richards garnered enough records and achievements while in high school at St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. - which won the state championships each year that she competed - to get national attention. She won 10 individual gold medals in the 100-meter, 200-meter, 400-meter and long jump, and one in the 4 x 100-meter relay while lettering in basketball, serving as a member of the National Honor Society and maintaining a 4.0 GPA.

Like most athletes, her rise hasn't been without its obstacles. She came on the international scene in 2002 when she took the women's 200-meter and 400-meter at the U.S. Junior Championships, then followed with a silver medal in the 400-meter at World Juniors that same year. She won the Verizon Youth Athlete of the Year, the Track & Field News Women's Prep Athlete of the Year, and the Women's Indoor Prep Athlete of the Year in 2002. She was the USA Track & Field (USATF) Athlete of the Year in 2003, then barely missed qualifying for the Olympics in the 400-meter in 2004.

But it was her 2004 Olympic performance in the women's 4 x 400-meter relay, which was good enough for gold, that cemented her status as an elite athlete who would make history.

And she's stamping her mark off the track, too. In 2005, Richards was chosen to receive the Visa Humanitarian Athlete of the Year award for her involvement in USATF's "Be a Champion" program. She speaks with youth in at-risk situations about the benefits of sport.

Her exceptional performances at this year's Golden League competitions are but one part of this singer and dancer's life. Richards' 50.02 gold at the Memorial Van Damme last week proved again that she can dominate the field, but whether or not she can best herself at 48.92 is yet to be determined.

That she has taken five of the six 400-meter races in the Golden League series qualifies her to potentially win the jackpot.

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