A year out from the Rio Olympics, 30-year-old Jamaican-American Olympic sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross is getting ready to make a bid for history.
She’s a three-time gold medalist, having run in the 2004 Athens Olympics, in Beijing in 2008, and then again in London four years later. Known as one of the most decorated female track and field Olympians of all time, she secured her place as a true Olympic champion at the 2012 games in the 400 meters, when she overtook her competition with 50 meters left.
Attaining that level of athletic success doesn’t come easy. Richards-Ross spoke with NBCBLK about her fitness regimen, what it’s like to go for gold on the world’s biggest stage, and how she holds on to her Jamaican heritage while running against the Caribbean nation’s fierce competitors.
The rivalry between Jamaican and American sprinters runs deep, and has been building in recent years. In 2012, the U.S. hoped to walk away victorious from the 4x100-meter relay when American sprinter Ryan Bailey was in the lead — but Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt dashed those dreams. Richards-Ross, who was born in Kingston, Jamaica, says she was torn between the two cultures at a young age, but loves to run for the U.S.
“My heart was always really torn when I was younger, and I started running for the U.S. But now I feel like running for the U.S. is home for me, and I have tremendous support from my Jamaican fans,” she said. “Jamaica will always be where I’m from, and I have great roots there, but I love competing for Team USA, and I cheer my teammates on, and of course I enjoy watching the Jamaicans run as well.”
Staying in top shape is a full-time job for most Olympians, and Richards-Ross is no different. Three years ago, she set four world-leading times running the 200 and 400 meters in her first competitions of the season. To perform like that again, she’s kept a strict workout regimen that requires a lot more than just running most days.
“I’m on the track five days a week,” Richards-Ross said. “I’m in the weight room four days a week. I do Pilates. I do a lot of core work. I pay attention to my eating. Rest and recovery is also a big part of training, so I do a lot of prehab, massaging, ice baths, stuff like that also to make sure I’m healthy and I’m ready to run fast.”
As she gets ready for her fourth Olympics, Richards-Ross said she looks forward to the sportsmanship and compassion shared among the athletes.
“I would say representing our country is a major thrill. When you walk into the village the first day, there’s just this feeling of hope and tremendous energy and synergy between all the athletes, and I really love being a part of that,” she said.
The 2012 London Olympics was watched by more than 200 million Americans, one of the most-watched events in TV history. Some of those who tuned in are young athletes themselves, and Richards-Ross said it’s important to her to be a role model for budding competitors who are willing to work toward becoming a top runner someday.
“As an elite athlete, we are role models and I take that role very seriously,” she said. “Now that I’m 30, I have nieces, nephews, and godchildren that are in the sport. I see how much they look up to not just me, but other athletes, and it makes me realize even more how important it is to set a good example. And so I try to do that, though I’m not perfect. I do my best to stay positive and be someone that young people can try to emulate.”