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Sprinter Richards ready for dual challenge

7 August 2007

By Dave Ungrady

For Sanya Richards, the saying "time heals all wounds" resonates profoundly on multiple levels.

The first wound surfaced in April in the form of aching joints, fever and fatigue. Richards thought she had the flu, but she discovered last month that she suffers from Behcet's Disease, an illness that zapped her energy and added another layer of difficulty to training and competing.

The onset of Behcet's opened up her second wound. Richards, the 2006 World Athlete of the Year and U.S. champion in the 400 meters, finished fourth in her specialty at the recent U.S. outdoor championships and missed making the world championship team by 0.44 seconds.

Six weeks later, Richards seems to have recovered from her dual setbacks.

"This is the best I've felt since I've been dealing with it," she said by phone Monday from Stockholm, Sweden. "I'm feeling almost 100 percent."

Richards leads a strong cast of elite athletes that are scheduled to compete in the DN Galan Super Grand Prix in Stockholm, Sweden, on Tuesday. It's the last IAAF World Athletic Tour meeting before the world championships begin Aug. 25 in Osaka, Japan.

Other notable athletes scheduled to compete in Stockholm include world-record holder Asafa Powell of Jamaica in the 100 meters, Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner of the United States in the 400 meters, defending world champions Michelle Perry of the United States in the 100-meter hurdles and Kajsa Bergqvist of Sweden in the high jump. American Allyson Felix, the 200-meter champion at the 2005 worlds, is scheduled to compete in the 400 meters.

Richards will attempt a rare double in the 100 meters and 400 meters as she makes final competitive preparations for the 200 meters and the sprint relays at the upcoming world championships. She qualified for Osaka by finishing second in the 200 at the recent U.S. championships.

Richards committed to running the 400 meters at Galan before she failed to qualify for the world championships in the event. "I wasn't going to pull out after making the commitment," she said.

Richards could not recall the last time she attempted a 100-400 double. The Galan meet offers no 200-meter event for women. The only option Richards had to work on her speed in Stockholm was to run in the 100 meters as well.

"We don't do a lot of sprinting in practice," she said. "Sprinters get used to sprinting. They know how fast they are going. In the 400, I'm pacing myself. There's no real part in the 400 except the first 50 meters where I'm running as hard as I can. In the 100, I'm looking to run as fast as I can and translate that into the 200 meters."

Running a 100-400 double was far from Richards' mind two months ago. "I'd train for two or three days, then be ill for two or three days," she said.

When she won the 400 meters at the Prefontaine Classic in early June, her joint pain had subsided, but mouth sores made it difficult to eat and talk. She saw six doctors, and each said she had a virus. One doctor hinted at Behcet's.

After her disappointing finish in the 400 at the national championships, Richards visited one more doctor in early July who confirmed she had the disease. According to the National Institutes of Health, Behcet's Disease is caused by an inflammation of the blood vessels. Doctors are not sure what causes the inflammation. The disease in not contagious.

Richards now takes medication to control the symptoms, which also include skin sores. She suffered her last outbreak in early July.

In four European meets since then, Richards won three 400-meter races, including two Golden League events, and a 200-meter race. She is one of three athletes still contending for the $1 million Golden League prize with three events remaining.

Tuesday in Stockholm, Richards hopes to run 11.1 in the 100 meters, which would be a personal record, and a high 48-second or low 49-second 400 meters. Two hours separate the events, allowing ample time for rest.

If Richards wins the 400 faster than 50.13, she will set a stadium record and win a one-carat diamond.

For Richards, perhaps the most valuable prize is the fact that she has control of a disease that threatened to curtail her thriving career.

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