NEW YORK — Sanya Richards-Ross at last won the Olympic 400m in her third try in 2012. Then she required two right big toe surgeries and filmed a reality TV show.
So amid all that in summer 2013, the married woman considered retiring to start a family.
“For one second,” Richards-Ross said at a Midtown Manhattan hotel Thursday, two days before she competes in the Millrose Games (NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra, 6 p.m. ET). “I accomplished my greatest goals in the sport, and I’m happy. And the injury was tough. There were days where, literally, the pain was so intense I wasn’t sure I was ever going to be able to run on my foot.
“But I think there’s something inside of athletes, this burning desire to always see how much better you can be. I don’t think I’m done yet. I still love it. I still feel like my best is yet to come.”
Richards-Ross, who turns 30 in two weeks, points to the history of her event. Michael Johnson ran his fastest time at age 31. Marie-Jose Perec and Cathy Freeman won Olympic golds in their late 20s.
The motivation is evident when Richards-Ross utters “revenge” in anticipating this summer’s World Championships in Beijing. Not for the 2013 World Championships, which she failed to qualify for due in large part to that toe, but for the 2008 Olympics in the Chinese capital. The favorite, she led off the final turn and fell behind Great Britain’s Christine Ohuruogu and Jamaica’s Shericka Williams in the final 50 meters.
“I want to conquer that track,” Richards-Ross said of the Bird’s Nest.
Richards-Ross returned in 2014 following two straight years cut short by surgeries for hallux rigidus, two bones in her big toe rubbing against each other. She couldn’t run in spikes at the 2013 U.S. Championships final due to the big toe pain.
“I think I have the sneakers record,” she joked of a sixth-place finish, 51.92 seconds.
The second surgery that summer inserted a screw and elevated the big toe permanently — “a little deformity,” Richards-Ross said.
Now, there’s less pressure when Richards-Ross pushes out of the blocks. Though one could argue that’s been the case since she finally won that individual Olympic gold in London.
Richards-Ross was back in form by late June last year, when she ran 49.66 in the U.S. Championships final in Sacramento.
She finished second to Francena McCorory, whose 49.48 was the fastest time from an American woman since Richards-Ross at the 2012 Olympic Trials.
“To be honest, 49.4 is actually a time I’ve run quite a few times, it’s not very threatening to me,” Richards-Ross said. “I think when I’m at my best, I know I can run that time and better, so what I look forward to is for me and Francena continuing to push each other.”
Richards-Ross and McCorory were the only women in the world to break 50 seconds last year and combined for seven of the eight fastest times overall. McCorory has been on Richards-Ross’ radar since 2006, when she broke Richards-Ross’ national high school indoor 400m record on a flat track.
At the London Olympics, McCorory handed the baton to anchor Richards-Ross in the 4x400m relay final.
“I know Francena wants to run sub-49,” Richards-Ross said. “My hope is that I’m in such great shape that we’re battling at 49 low, 48 seconds.”
Richards-Ross also ran the 200m at the London Olympics, finishing fifth. She says it’s “not worth it” to race the 200m anymore because of the pressure and force put on her toe blasting out of the blocks.
That will limit her races against Olympic 200m champion Allyson Felix, though Felix has said she’s more open to making the 400m her complementary event heading toward Rio. Felix (and McCorory) outran Richards-Ross at the 2011 World Championships before dropping the 400m for the 100m for London 2012.
“I welcome the best challengers,” Richards-Ross said, cracking a smile. “If Allyson wants to focus on the four, come get some.”
Richards-Ross will be older in 2016 than any woman who owns an Olympic 400m medal, according to sports-reference.com. One woman has won back-to-back Olympic 400m golds — Perec in 1992 and 1996.
“I can see this being my last Olympics,” Richards-Ross said, “but then there are some times where I’m like, I want to have a kid and come back. I think the closer you get to possibly retiring is the more you want to push that further away, because you love what you do.”