Sha’Carri Richardson looks like a champion made better by her mistakes | World Athletics Championships

Sha’Carri Richardson’s arms were already spread in triumph before the race was over, but her Usain Bolt impression didn’t hold. Once she had crossed the finish line, the 23-year-old went from confidence to self-doubt as she searched the stadium scoreboard for her time. And even after her 10.65sec – and her 100m world title – was confirmed, she still couldn’t believe what had happened. Neither could anyone else, frankly.

In Budapest on Monday the American shocked the world, rallying past four of the fastest sprinters in history to win gold on the biggest stage outside the Olympics. This was after she scraped into the final and had to race from the outside lane as a result. Meanwhile, her Jamaican rivals Shericka Jackson and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce – respectively, the world’s top-ranked sprinter and a 10-time world champion – started their races from the middle of the track, much too far to see Richardson coming. As with Bolt, you can’t help wondering how much faster Richardson’s time could have been if she had run all the way through the tape – especially given her 0.07sec margin of victory. But what could have been hardly detracted from what is: a true redemption story.

‘Blocking out the noise’: Sha’Carri Richardson on her world gold-winning comeback – video

It was only two years ago, after her comfortable victory in the US Olympic trials, that much of the US fell head over heels for the petite Dallas native with the long fingernails and colored wigs, who had promised to “give ‘em hell every time.” NBC had promoted her as a star to watch in Tokyo, while Nike was billing her as the spiritual successor to Florence Griffith Joyner. But no sooner had fame arrived than Richardson tested positive for marijuana and was given a month-long suspension that effectively sidelined her for the Olympics, even though she was technically available for the 4x100m in the finals days of the Games.

While Jackson, Fraser-Pryce and Elaine Thompson-Herah dominated the Tokyo track, Richardson subtweeted them in anticipation of their post-Olympic meeting at the Prefontaine Classic. An acrylic-nail tapping Nike advert scored to Aretha Franklin’s Young, Gifted and Black hyped the matchup to a Super Bowl-like scale. “If you need me,” Richardson says in the spot, “I’ll be at the finish line, waiting.”

But it was the other runners who were left waiting as Richardson finished dead last. Worse, Richardson upstaged the Jamaicans and basked in the limelight as if she had won, inviting scorn and sarcasm in equal measure. In a flash, NBC’s Olympic It Girl had become the embodiment of American arrogance.

Credit to Richardson, though: after hitting back at her haters to the point of exhaustion, she kept her head down through more disappointing results in tune-up events in 2022. This year she’s been on form from the start, clocking the fourth-fastest ever women’s 100m at a spring meet in Miramar before scoring her first Diamond League victory, in Doha. Last month she blitzed to victory at the US outdoor championships, qualifying for worlds on the same Oregon track where she was humiliated at the Prefontaine Classic. For an extra flourish, she pulled off her orange wig and tossed it aside before the start as if to signal to fans that the brash young firecracker they fell in love with is no more.

The new Richardson is still confident but she is also more composed, and her early results in Budapest bore that out. Monday was one of the few instances this year Richardson had taken 10.84sec or longer to complete a critical 100m heat. After a dreadful start to her semi-final, she rallied from seventh to grab third in a stacked field that included Jackson and the Ivorian legend Marie-Josée Ta Lou. Richardson’s relatively slow time was still fastest among the non-automatic qualifiers, which earned her a spot in the medal round. If her world championships had ended in the semis, most likely, she would have been tarred as a failure all over again.

This time Richardson wasn’t beating her chest at the end of the final. If anything, she was still processing her mammoth accomplishment while hugging her supporters in the stands. And when cameras caught her cooling down on the track with Frasier-Pryce and Jackson, any previous animosity between Richardson and the Jamaicans appeared to have cooled.

“You know how long [since] USA get a gold medal?” Fraser-Pryce asked.

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“Because of you!” Richardson joked. “Because of you!” she said again, nodding at Jackson.

With Monday’s victory, Richardson became USA’s first 100m women’s world champion since the late, great Tori Bowie in 2017. What’s more, Richardson’s gold comes after Noah Lyles was crowned the world’s fastest man on Sunday. After many down years, too many lost to scandal, America would appear to be a superpower on the track again.

Given how young Richardson still is, there’s no telling what lies ahead. What’s undeniable is that she looks a woman made better by her mistakes.