Sha’Carri Richardson isn’t back. She’s better, and so is U.S. women’s sprinting

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As the outdoor track and field season began in earnest, Sha’Carri Richardson offered a succinct self-assessment that, so far, can also apply to U.S. women’s flat sprinting.

“Y’all say I’m back,” she said earlier this month. “I’m not back. I’m better.”

Ten months ago, the U.S. earned zero medals across the women’s 100m, 200m and 400m at a world championships for the first time. A year before that, the U.S. didn’t win a single gold or silver medal across those events at an Olympics for the first time since 2000.

Times are changing. To be more specific, they’re getting quicker for U.S. female sprinters.

Collectively, they’ve been the story of the early season: Richardson’s hot start in the 100m and 200m, Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone‘s decision to start racing the flat 400m and Britton Wilson‘s similar choice between the flat 400m and hurdles. What’s more, McLaughlin-Levrone and Olympic 800m champion Athing Mu could each go for three gold medals at this August’s worlds by adding the mixed-gender and women’s 4x400m relays to their lineups (see about that for Mu, since the 800m final is an hour before the women’s 4x400m final on the last day).

On Saturday, Richardson headlines the 100m at the Los Angeles Grand Prix (4:30-6 p.m. ET, NBC,, NBC Sports app and Peacock).

She’s already the world’s fastest woman this year (it’s early) after clocking 10.76 seconds on May 5 (and beating world silver medalist Shericka Jackson of Jamaica). She’s also second-fastest in the world this year in the 200m, registering 22.07 two weeks ago while shutting it down early in an easy victory.

In LA, Richardson faces a 100m field that includes the second-fastest U.S. woman this year, fellow former LSU Tiger Aleia Hobbs. It marks another test for Richardson, who come July’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships will try to make her first global championship team. The 200m in LA features Olympic bronze medalist Gabby Thomas, who was slowed last year by a torn hamstring but torched her 400m personal best in April.

Richardson has spoken about finding her peace on the track again, two years after having her Olympic Trials win stripped for testing positive for marijuana, which she used after learning of the death of her biological mother. Last year, Richardson was eliminated in the 100m heats at USATF Outdoors.

NBC Sports analysts Sanya Richards-Ross and Ato Boldon both have Richardson winning a 100m medal at August’s worlds in Hungary, should she keep this up. No U.S. woman has won an Olympic or world 100m medal since the late Tori Bowie‘s title in 2017.

Boldon said Richardson has specifically worked on her start with coach Dennis Mitchell, and it is much improved.

“What I’m seeing now is I think that she has regained her confidence,” Richards-Ross said. “You could tell in her early couple of races, she looked a little bit timid, especially through some of her phases. But now, when she’s coming up and getting tall in the final phases of the 100m or the 200m, she looks so confident.”

Jamaica owned the women’s 100m for the last 16 years, but Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the reigning world champion, has yet to race this year, withdrawing from her most recent scheduled meet with a reported knee injury.

“It’s just hard to bet against someone who has so much experience and so many medals,” Richards-Ross said of the 36-year-old Fraser-Pryce, who owns two Olympic 100m titles, five world 100m titles and is coming off her most dominant season yet. “So until she proves me different, I think that she’s still the favorite.”

Elaine Thompson-Herah, the reigning Olympic champion, raced one low-key 200m and 400m this season, ranking outside the world top 100 in each event. Jackson is the lone Jamaican superstar to compete at the top level so far this spring, and Richardson beat her.

Moving up in distance, the U.S. could be taking over the flat 400m in the absence of Olympic and world champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas, who gave birth to a son last month.

McLaughlin-Levrone, the Olympic and world champion and world record holder in the 400m hurdles, has yet to compete this outdoor season. But the three races she’s announced are all in the flat 400m — the LA Grand Prix (from which she then withdrew), the Paris Diamond League on June 9 and USATF Outdoors in early July.

She has a bye into the 400m hurdles at worlds as defending champion, but her coach, Bobby Kersee, said she will race one individual event at worlds, to be decided after USATF Outdoors. That means she could bypass the hurdles for the flat 400m, should she finish top three at USATF Outdoors.

Richards-Ross and Boldon wouldn’t be surprised if McLaughlin-Levrone does not clear a single hurdle in competition this year.

“She’s done everything imaginable in the 400m hurdles, so it makes sense that in a season that’s not an Olympic year that she’d decide to do the 400m, see how fast she can run,” said Richards-Ross, the 2012 Olympic 400m champion.

Richards-Ross believes that her American record of 48.70 seconds is under threat this season. Her eyes are not only on McLaughlin-Levrone, who at last July’s worlds posted the second-fastest 4x400m relay split in the last 33 years, but also Wilson, a University of Arkansas junior.

At the SEC Championships two weeks ago, Wilson won the 400m in 49.13 seconds, a time that would have taken silver at the last Olympics and worlds. Less than two hours later, she won the 400m hurdles in 53.28, just two tenths off her personal best, for the fastest one-day 400m-400m hurdles double in history.

Boldon believes the 400m hurdles is her best event. Richards-Ross says it’s proving to be the flat 400m.

Wilson is running both events again at this weekend’s NCAA regionals. The finals at the NCAA Championships in two weeks are 25 minutes apart. At July’s USATF Outdoors, the 400m final and 400m hurdles semifinals are 15 minutes apart, so conventional wisdom says she must pick one race there, though Wilson has not announced her plans.

How Richards-Ross analyzed Wilson could hold true for multiple U.S. sprinters this season.

“She’s barely scratched the surface,” she said.

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At the French Open, a Ukrainian mom makes her comeback

Elina Svitolina French Open

Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, once the world’s third-ranked tennis player, is into the French Open third round in her first major tournament since childbirth.

Svitolina, 28, swept 2022 French Open semifinalist Martina Trevisan of Italy, then beat Australian qualifier Storm Hunter 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 to reach the last 32 at Roland Garros. She next plays 56th-ranked Russian Anna Blinkova, who took out the top French player, fifth seed Caroline Garcia, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 on her ninth match point.

Svitolina’s husband, French player Gael Monfils, finished his first-round five-set win after midnight on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. She watched that match on a computer before going to sleep ahead of her 11 a.m. start Wednesday.

“This morning, he told me, ‘I’m coming to your match, so make it worth it,'” she joked on Tennis Channel. “I was like, OK, no pressure.

“I don’t know what he’s doing here now. He should be resting.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Svitolina made at least one major quarterfinal every year from 2017 through 2021, including the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2019. She married Monfils one week before the Tokyo Olympics, then won a singles bronze medal.

Svitolina played her last match before maternity leave on March 24, 2022, one month after Russia invaded her country. She gave birth to daughter Skai on Oct. 15.

Svitolina returned to competition in April. Last week, she won the tournament preceding the French Open, sweeping Blinkova to improve to 17-3 in her career in finals. She’s playing on a protected ranking of 27th after her year absence and, now, on a seven-match win streak.

“It was always in my head the plan to come back, but I didn’t put any pressure on myself, because obviously with the war going on, with the pregnancy, you never know how complicated it will go,” she said. “I’m as strong as I was before, maybe even stronger, because I feel that I can handle the work that I do off the court, and match by match I’m getting better. Also mentally, because mental can influence your physicality, as well.”

Svitolina said she’s motivated by goals to attain before she retires from the sport and to help Ukraine, such as donating her prize money from last week’s title in Strasbourg.

“These moments bring joy to people of Ukraine, to the kids as well, the kids who loved to play tennis before the war, and now maybe they don’t have the opportunity,” she said. “But these moments that can motivate them to look on the bright side and see these good moments and enjoy themselves as much as they can in this horrible situation.”

Svitolina was born in Odesa and has lived in Kharkiv, two cities that have been attacked by Russia.

“I talk a lot with my friends, with my family back in Ukraine, and it’s a horrible thing, but they are used to it now,” she said. “They are used to the alarms that are on. As soon as they hear something, they go to the bomb shelters. Sleepless nights. You know, it’s a terrible thing, but they tell me that now it’s a part of their life, which is very, very sad.”

Svitolina noted that she plays with a flag next to her name — unlike the Russians and Belarusians, who are allowed to play as neutral athletes.

“When I step on the court, I just try to think about the fighting spirit that all of us Ukrainians have and how Ukrainians are fighting for their values, for their freedom in Ukraine,” she said, “and me, I’m fighting here on my own front line.”

Svitolina said that she’s noticed “a lot of rubbish” concerning how tennis is reacting to the war.

“We have to focus on what the main point of what is going on,” she said. “Ukrainian people need help and need support. We are focusing on so many things like empty words, empty things that are not helping the situation, not helping anything.

“I want to invite everyone to focus on helping Ukrainians. That’s the main point of this, to help kids, to help women who lost their husbands because they are at the war, and they are fighting for Ukraine.

“You can donate. Couple of dollars might help and save lives. Or donate your time to something to help people.”

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Marcell Jacobs still sidelined, misses another race with Fred Kerley

Marcell Jacobs

Olympic 100m champion Marcell Jacobs of Italy will miss another scheduled clash with world 100m champion Fred Kerley, withdrawing from Friday’s Diamond League meet in Florence.

Jacobs, 28, has not recovered from the nerve pain that forced him out of last Sunday’s Diamond League meet in Rabat, Morocco, according to Italy’s track and field federation.

In his absence, Kerley’s top competition will be fellow American Trayvon Bromell, the world bronze medalist, and Kenyan Ferdinand Omanyala, the world’s fastest man this year at 9.84 seconds. Kerley beat both of them in Rabat.

The Florence Diamond League airs live on Peacock on Friday from 2-4 p.m. ET.

Jacobs has withdrawn from six scheduled head-to-heads with Kerley dating to May 2022 due to a series of health issues since that surprise gold in Tokyo.

Kerley, primarily a 400m sprinter until the Tokyo Olympic year, became the world’s fastest man in Jacobs’ absence. He ran a personal best 9.76 seconds, the world’s best time of 2022, at last June’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Then he led a U.S. sweep of the medals at July’s worlds.

Jacobs’ next scheduled race is a 100m at the Paris Diamond League on June 9. Kerley is not in that field, but world 200m champion Noah Lyles is.

The last time the reigning Olympic and world men’s 100m champions met in a 100m was the 2012 London Olympic final between Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake. From 2013 to 2017, Bolt held both titles, then retired in 2017 while remaining reigning Olympic champion until Jacobs’ win in Tokyo, where Kerley took silver.

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