The 2016 season will be the last for sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross. The five-time Olympic medalist opens up about her final season, why she wants to be like Kobe Bryant, why she wants to meet Beyonce and more.
Sanya Richards-Ross will race before a U.S. crowd one more time as she attempts to make her fourth Olympic team. Richards-Ross, who won gold in the women’s 400 meters in 2012, aims to become the first American woman to pull the back-to-back feat.
The 2016 season—Richards-Ross announced earlier that it will be her last—has not been without its ups and downs. Richards-Ross struggled in her season opening 400-meters at the Prefontaine Classic, where a 52.16 put her in last in the finals. She also ran a 100-meter dash in Atlanta, which ended in a collapse due to a hamstring injury halfway through the race.
Making the U.S. Olympic team looks to be a tall order for the reigning gold medalist in the 400 meters, but Richards-Ross could sneak onto the relay pool, which also aims to defend its gold medal from London. The U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials take place July 1–10 in Eugene, Ore., and the first round of the women’s 400 meters is slated for Friday at 8:45 p.m. ET.
SI caught up with Richards-Ross earlier in the season. The interview has been edited for clarity,
Chris Chavez: The cat is out of the bag. You announced that 2016 will be your final track season before retiring.
Sanya Richards-Ross: I debated waiting until after Rio to announce it, god-willing I make it. But I didn’t want my fans thinking, “Damn, that was her final Penn Relays or Pre Classic.” Similar to Kobe Bryant, I was able to celebrate and watch him play. I wanted my fans to have the same experience. The reception I’ve received is amazing. It has given me more motivation and inspiration to make it a great year.
CC: You made a cameo in Kobe’s farewell video by Nike. How do you make your own farewell as grand and memorable?
Richards-Ross: My cousin said the funniest thing. She said, “This is your Samba season, right? Just like his Mamba season.” I want to figure out a way to go out with my own 60 points [Kobe scored 60 points in the final game of his NBA career]. What Kobe was able to do for basketball and the world, I know I don’t compare in stature but what I really want is for my fans to enjoy this celebration with me.
CC: What’s the 60-point equivalent in track?
SRR: The equivalent would be going back-to-back. No American woman has won back-to-back Olympic golds. Marie Jose Perec, a French 400-meter runner, is the only person to have ever done it. I think that’s maybe worth 120 points.
CC: What’s been the lead-up into this year like?
SRR: I had surgery on my foot in November and came back. Coach [Clyde] Hart is a phenomenal coach. I’m so blessed to have him. We were able to make up for lost time every week in practice.
CC: The 400 meters is always tough. What’s the outlook like for the event?
SRR: People always tell me that the women’s 100-meter hurdles is raising the bar, and I feel like the 400 can sometimes be a little stagnant. To see women running sub-50 [seconds] early in the season is amazing. I want to run at my best. We run at our best when everyone else is pushing you to that level.
CC: Of all the places that track and field has taken you in the world, what have been some of your favorites?
SRR: I love Zurich, Switzerland. I actually really enjoyed Berlin as well. I also loved Beijing. In 2008, I didn’t do any sightseeing, but this time around [at the 2015 world championships], I saw the Great Wall of China and the jade markets, and it was beautiful city. I’ve been to so many places but those are my quick favorites.
CC: Where else do you wish your career would have taken you?
SRR: I still haven’t been to Africa. I’m planning a mission trip there at the end of the year once my career is over. I’m really excited for that trip.
CC: You’ve also met celebrities left and right throughout your career. You’ve even hung out with Usain Bolt a few times. Who is left in terms of celebrities you want to meet?
SRR: I still haven’t met Beyonce. I’m in formation, Bey, so we need to meet.
CC: When you look back at your career, you’ve won five Olympics medals: four gold and one bronze. Where do you keep them?
SRR: When I won Olympic gold [in the women’s 4x400-meter relay at the 2004 Olympics in Athens] my mother framed it. I was invited to an event and told to bring the medal but it was in a frame. I learned my lesson so now they’re in a trophy case at home but I keep them around. I see them all of the time because of appearances.
CC: What’s that like at an airport?
SRR: Sometimes because they’re so thick, they ask if it’s medal before occasionally making a big fuss when they realize. They’re like “Oh my gosh!” before snapping photos with TSA. They’re always impressed to seem them in real life and it’s fun.