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TRACK AND FIELD

Sanya Richards gets her gold in 400 meters

She needs 49 seconds at World Championships to break through doubt surrounding her after third-place finish at Beijing Olympics. Kerron Clement picks up second straight world title in 400 hurdles.

August 19, 2009|Philip Hersh

BERLIN — It really has not been a common occurrence for Sanya Richards to let a championship gold medal slip away.

But a glaring example came under the most glare, in the 400-meter final at the 2008 Olympics, when she led until coming apart in the home stretch and finishing third.

Then everyone wondered how a woman who has been the world's top-ranked quarter-miler at the end of every season since 2005 had no big prize to show for it.

"It hasn't been that many times I have failed as the favorite," Richards said. "It just felt like it."

Her coach, Clyde Hart vainly tried to make that point to Richards after the Beijing Olympics.

"I kept telling her there was nothing wrong, but it kept preying on her mind there was," said Hart, who has coached Michael Johnson and Jeremy Wariner to Olympic gold in the 400. "But she is very competitive, and she feels like she had to win because so many people wanted her to win. Things just built up."

Until Tuesday night, that is, when Richards, 24, needed just 49 seconds to tear down the edifice of doubt that had surrounded her with an emphatic victory in the 400 at the World Championships. Shericka Williams of Jamaica was second in 49.32, Antonina Krivoshapka of Russia third in 49.71 and 2008 Olympic champion Christine Ohuruogu of Britain fifth in 50.21.

"It has been a burden on my mind for a long time, and I think I finally shed that," Richards said.

And, for all his strong feelings that the widely held impressions of Richards' inability to win the big one are inaccurate, her septuagenarian coach clearly felt like joining Richards as she did a dance called the Dallas Boogie not long after crossing the finish line.

"I was relieved as she was to get that thing out of the way," Hart said. "This is validation."

So was Kerron Clement's second straight world title in the 400 hurdles, especially since the U.S. runner also had fallen short as the favorite at the Beijing Games, where he took silver.

Tuesday, Clement clocked 47.91 for a comfortable win over Javier Culson (48.09), the first Puerto Rican medalist ever at the track worlds, with Bershawn Jackson (48.23) of the United States taking bronze.

Richards is a native Jamaican who moved to Florida at age 12, became a U.S. citizen at 17, moved to Texas for college and stayed, with her close-knit family following soon after.

"We all have cried with her," her father, Archie, said about the family's reaction to Sanya's disappointments.

For the last few seasons, Richards has struggled with an energy-sapping disorder called Behcet's syndrome, which leaves her with lesions in the mouth and on the body.

She had an outbreak here but covered the sores on her legs with makeup.

"I know how to handle it now," Richards said. "It didn't get in my mind, and it didn't get in my way."

Instead, Richards spent time a few days before the race learning dance moves from Usain Bolt in an encounter she posted to YouTube.

But she chickened out of doing them after the victory.

"I told myself I was going to channel Usain in the last 100," she said. "I didn't do the dance but I definitely tried to get some of his energy."

Richards' final stride was a bounce across the line.

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phersh@tribune.com

twitter.com/olyphil

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