EUGENE, Ore.—Everything is golden for Sanya Richards-Ross, for a change.
Richards-Ross, known as much for her heartbreaking losses in the biggest races and her battle with a rare disease as for her dominance of the 400 meters, will get another shot at an Olympic gold medal. She won her signature event Sunday at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in a world-leading time of 49.28.
Her husband, NFL cornerback Aaron Ross, provided reassurance by looking her in the eyes and saying, “Execute.” Ross then watched his wife run a flawless race, passing the 200 mark with the exact split her coach prescribed and pulling away in the last 60 meters. Richards-Ross, who grew up in Pembroke Pines, still had enough energy to blow kisses to the crowd and jog a lap waving an American flag.
Her performance was one of the highlights of seven finals on Day 3, the first day of sunshine at the trials, although cool temperatures persisted in the mecca of the sport, known as Tracktown, USA.
One of the lowlights was Walter Dix’s last-place finish in the men’s 100 meters. Fort Lauderdale’s Dix, bronze medalist in the 100 and 200 at the 2008 Olympics, pulled up after his semifinal heat, clutching his left hamstring. He was not a factor in the final, won by Justin Gatlin in 9.80 seconds.
“Things happen,” a stone-faced Dix said afterward, his leg wrapped in a bandage. “I can’t say much about the injury. I have to have it checked. Hopefully, I will heal up and get back for the 200.”
Dix, 26, who switched his training base from Tallahassee to join the star-studded stable of sprinters under coach John Smith at UCLA, has had hamstring problems all season. He said the pain surfaced in the semifinals. Dix had supplanted Tyson Gay as the top American speedster, but Sunday’s final turned out to be a comeback showdown for second-place finisher and Clermont, Fla.-based Gay, who had hip surgery last year, and Gatlin, who served a four-year doping suspension two years after winning gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
A decision on how to resolve Saturday’s tie for third place in the women’s 100 meters led to more uncertainty. Jeneba Tarmoh, initially announced the winner of the photo finish, and Allyson Felix, who crossed the line in the identical time of 11.068, could be headed for an unprecedented run-off. Or they could break the tie with a coin toss. Or one could decline her spot.
It’s up to them, but it has to be settled before the meet ends on Sunday, July 1. Only the top three finishers make the U.S. team headed to the July 27-Aug. 12 London Olympics. Both Tarmoh and Felix plan to run the 200 meters; the women’s final is Saturday. If both athletes agree to a coin toss or a run-off, that’s how the tie will be broken. If they disagree on the procedure, or refuse to declare their preference, it will be broken by a run-off, which has been used in U.S. swimming trials before. If the run-off ends in a dead heat, it will be broken by a coin toss.
The finish line image, recorded at 3,000 frames per second, showed the torsos of Tarmoh and Felix hitting the line at the same instant. At first, Tarmoh was announced the winner, and she was led to the press room to tell the media about her happiness at making her first Olympic team. Felix, four-time 200-meter world champion who had added the 100 to her Olympic program, was in tears. Twenty-four hours later, after a tie-breaking procedure had been created during improvised meetings by USA Track and Field officials and athletes and the U.S. Olympic Committee, their fates were still up in the air. They may opt to see how they fare in the 200; qualifying rounds start Thursday. They train together under coach Bobby Kersee, who will add his input.
“I vote for a jello wrestling match,” Gatlin said when asked how to break the tie.
In other events Sunday, LaShawn Merritt won the men’s 400 with a 2012 world best time of 44.12. Five runners finished under 45 seconds, including silver medalist Tony McQuay of Riviera Beach, Fla., who is entering his senior year at Florida, where he helped the Gators win the NCAA indoor and outdoor titles. In third was Bryshon Nellum, who recovered from a 2008 gunshot wound to his legs. Former champ Jeremy Wariner was sixth.
Merritt, gold medalist at the Beijing Games, had served a suspension for a positive drug test, which he appealed and had reduced by proving the medication in question was a male enhancement product from a drugstore.
“My plan is to do a replay of 2008,” said Merritt, who has been training in Florida.
Richards-Ross, a graduate of St. Thomas Aquinas High, does not want a replay of 2008, when she faded to third in the 400. She said she was misdiagnosed with Behcet’s disease in 2007. In 2010, when she was going through another outbreak of lesions and mouth sores, she consulted with a new doctor who concluded she has a skin disorder, not Behcet’s.
Since changing her treatment regimen, she has felt better. No more joint pain and fatigue, although she still gets occasional mouth sores. Her time Sunday was best in the world since 2009, when she won the world title.
“I’m looking to be my old self and run 48 seconds,” she said, referring to her 2006 American record of 48.70.
She plans to move to Jacksonville with Ross, a former cornerback for the Super Bowl champion Giants who was traded to the Jaguars. They’ll keep a home in Austin, Tex., where they went to college.
Gatlin, 30, a native of Pensacola, became the oldest trials winner in his event eight years after he was the youngest at the Olympics. From 2006 to 2010, he was banned from the sport after testing positive for excessive testosterone, then blacklisted by meet directors.
“I’ve heard the world ‘redemption,’” Gatlin said. “But I’m looking forward, not backward. I’ve been a clean athlete.”
Jeff Demps of Gainesville, a former Gator running back, finished seventh in the 100.