Exclusive: No reason why Asians cannot compete with Americans, says Olympic champion Richards-Ross

The two-time Female World Athlete of the Year urged young Asian athletes to believe in themselves


Rituraj Borkakoty

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Sanya Richards-Ross of the US celebrates after winning the women's 400m gold at the 2012 London Olympics. — AFP file
Sanya Richards-Ross of the US celebrates after winning the women's 400m gold at the 2012 London Olympics. — AFP file

Published: Thu 20 Jul 2023, 9:34 PM

Few people are as qualified as Sanya Richards-Ross to gauge an athlete's quality. A two-time Female World Athlete of the Year, Richards-Ross won five world championships gold and four Olympic gold medals in 400m and 4×400m relay during her glittering career.

Richards-Ross, 38, who was recently in India as the ambassador of the World 10K Bangalore, says there is no reason to believe that Asian athletes cannot compete with the superstars from the US and Jamaica.

The Jamaica-born star who recorded the most sub-50 seconds runs in the history of 400m, urged young Asian athletes to believe in themselves.

During a freewheeling chat with the Khaleej Times, the American track and field legend also revealed her admiration for Serena Williams.

Q. Coming from the US, a track and field powerhouse, what kind of advice do you give to youngsters in a country like India which has produced just two Olympic individual gold medallists in its entire history?

India is not a powerhouse yet, but I think that is around the corner for India. It's been really impressive to see how the culture of running has been embraced there, I think that's going to bring some really great things in the future for Indian athletes. So my advice would be to just continue to work really hard and believe in yourself, never give up because anything is possible. So, you know, I always say, it's kind of cliche, but there is no shortcut to success. You have got to work hard and believe in yourself.

Q. Do you think Asia has a chance to match the global giants in track and field events in the future?

I definitely think that it's possible. I think what makes the athletes from Jamaica and the Team USA successful, is that there is history. There is a love for this sport in those countries. There is infrastructure and resources put in place to be able to produce world-class athletes. They have really invested a lot in the sports. It's important for people in countries like India to give their children an opportunity to participate in sports beyond the high school level or college level. So I do think it's possible. We have already seen an Indian athlete (Neeraj Chopra) have success in the javelin and that's a new territory. I don't see a reason why it's not possible for Asian athletes to be successful in all events if they just have more resources and opportunities.

Q. You have won five world championships gold. But winning the Olympic gold, especially the individual one in 2012, must have been so special because it's the greatest sporting event in the world. Can you describe the feeling of listening to the national anthem on the Olympic podium wearing the gold medal around your neck?

It's almost impossible to describe what it is like to have the Olympic gold medal, it's something that you have dreamt of when you were a nine-year-old. And then to go on and achieve it, especially for me, having experienced failure in 2008 when I was the favourite to win the gold medal, I won the bronze. Having to rebound from that and I worked really hard to be able to have that fairytale ending in 2012. People say all the time, you stand on the podium, your life flashes before your eyes, and you just want to stay there forever. You just never want to leave. So yeah it's the best feeling in the world, and it gives you a sense of confidence that you can do anything you put your mind to. It's impossible to describe that feeling what it feels like to achieve your life-long goal.

Q. You were only 12 when you left Jamaica for the US. What memories do you have of the country of your birth?

I have vivid memories of Jamaica. I remember the school, the tracks, and the coaches and I remember falling in love with sport. I remember going to the beach every Sunday with my family, enjoying the fresh fish and vegetables. It was a really great childhood in Jamaica. I always say that I had the best of both worlds. Being in Jamaica in my youth, being exposed to track and field, and having the support, then going to the United States and in having great resources and great coaching there, so I feel really blessed to have the best of Jamaica and the best of the US.

Q. Are you friends with the Jamaican superstars Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce?

Obviously, I know Usain and Shelly and all the Jamaican girls really well from competing against them. I never really get a chance to develop a really close friendship, but there is so much love and respect. There is a lot of admiration and we always greet each other, and wish each other well. I got to compete in a really great time of track and field, run with the greats like Usain Bolts and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryces and so many others.

Q. Finally, we have to ask you this. Which is the sports icon outside of athletics that you admire?

Probably the woman that I admire the most is Serena Williams. What she did in tennis, how she transformed the sport, especially for women of colour, is just so phenomenal. She would probably be the greatest icon that I respect and look up to outside of track and field. In any sports, I just think that she is a once-in-a-lifetime athlete and also a great human being. She has done a lot of great work in the community, now a great mother and a great entrepreneur. So yeah, would always be Serena Williams for me.

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