If ever there were American royalty in the realm of athletics, sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross would reign queen. Standing with perfect posture at 5’8, packing the dictionary definition of “washboard abs,” the 5-time Olympic medalist (4 gold, 1 bronze) and 6-time world champion who was poised to defend her title in Rio, waved goodbye to her track career (and standing ovation of fans at Hayward Field) halfway through the ’16 Olympic trials following a series of grueling surgeries and ultimately a hamstring injury.
Resilience. Resolute. Fighter. These are the words most often used to describe Richards-Ross, words that now serve as the foundation for a string of projects in the next chapter of her career off the track. First up, tapping in as NBC’s designated track analyst and correspondent in Rio.
After a historical solo victory in London in the 400m, and anchoring the Women’s U.S. relay team to another gold in the 4x400, the double Olympic gold medalist from London ’12 remains the most-decorated female American Track and Field Olympian of all time. Over the decades on and off the track, Richards-Ross, who touts past and present partners that remain the pride of corporate America (Nike, Coca-Cola, BMW, Citibank, Liberty Mutual, BP, etc.) has come to wear many hats and answer to many titles: Olympian, World Champion, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist, Mentor, Business Owner, Believer, Fashionista, and her most cherished one of them all, Wife.
Born Sanya Richards on February 26, 1985 (age 31) in Kingston, Jamaica to athlete parents Archie and Sharon Richards, it wasn’t long before the future “fastest woman on the planet” was running sprints on the playground and leaving the older kids in the dust behind her. She fell in love at 7 years old, not with Barbies, not with boys, but with running. “The idea of propelling [herself] forward as quickly as [she] could,” Richards-Ross always says, has “always been [her] work of art.”
Seeing her potential, Richards-Ross’ devoted parents moved their girls (one younger sister, Shari Richards) to Fort Lauderdale, Florida when she was 12, to afford the young athlete-in-the-making the best resources in the world. Graduating with a 4.0 GPA and named National High School Female Athlete of the Year, USA Track and Field’s Youth Athlete of the Year, and Track and Field News Women’s Prep Athlete of the Year at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Florida all before going to college at the University of Texas at Austin, Richards-Ross’ family sacrifices began paying off, and swiftly. It was during her freshman year at UT when she met the man whom she would later marry in 2010, then Longhorn cornerback Aaron Ross (New York Giants).
The Olympics were calling, and Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008) went a little something like this: Athens become home to Richards Ross’ first 4x400m gold, a pivotal moment in her career. Her first Olympic gold. Then, Beijing happened. Richards-Ross won the bronze in the 400m, a celebratory moment for the country but a deafening personal defeat for the athlete who had been favored to win the gold all season. Finally, taking the baton in a jaw-dropping finish in one of the highest-rated moments of the Beijing Games, Richards-Ross overtook Russia, turning in a 48.98 leg and crossed the finish line at 3:18:54 for gold, the fastest time in the world since 1993.
2009 saw accolades that seemingly didn’t end: Earning her 5th National title, the 2009 World Champion, IAAF World Female Athlete of the Year and Laureus Award nominee sat in the ranks beside six of the seven fastest times run in the world during the season, finally breaking the record for most 400m races run under 50 seconds with 39 sub-50 clockings and counting. The defeat in Beijing was behind her, the world was her oyster.
Then injury struck. And then another. Sidelined for almost the entire year starting in April, Richards-Ross spent the 2011 season working her way back to form. She would later come to find history has a funny way of repeating itself.
But a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. “My journey as a professional athlete has not been without its twists and turns, but consistent through all my peaks and valleys were my God, my husband, my family, and a fire burning within me to make my country proud.”
To say 2012 ended up a banner year in Richards-Ross would be an understatement at best. She set four world leading times in the first three competitions of that season, and was crowned the 400m World Indoor Champion, setting the stage for her flagship event at the London Games. In traditional sports drama fashion, she overtook the competition in the last 50 meters, leading her to become the first American woman in 28 years, and only the second woman in history to win the 400m. With her final anchoring of the women’s 4x400m relay to gold for the third consecutive time, Richards-Ross took home the medal that would rank her as the most-decorated American female Track and Field Olympian of all time. Following, Richards-Ross let fans into her home through her WE tv reality series “Glam and Gold” which documented the world class track star as she juggled her appearances, career and home life in a weekly hour-long docu-series.
Now that training is off the schedule, the former pro-athlete can spend more time on her other pursuits and running her three thriving businesses: faux fur line Foofi & Bella with co-founder Angela Simmons, The Hair Clinic and Ross Elite Chauffeur Service, while expanding the reach of her personal foundation, The Gold Standard Foundation, which seeks to empower youth and the community through educational efforts and physical activity.
Flash back to 1992 in Kingston, Jamaica, where the sun is hot and the people are merry and you will find a 7-year-old with her signature million-watt smile, whom if you can convince to stop running for just a moment, will pause to tell you that if you have faith as small as a mustard seed anything is possible.
Richards-Ross currently resides in Austin, Texas with the love of her life, with frequent trips to both coasts for her broadcasting and brand engagements.