Former Alaskan runner gets shot at Olympic 4x100 relay

Posted: Friday, September 29, 2000

SYDNEY, Australia -- Not even former Alaska resident Passion Richardson expected to run in the Sydney Olympic Games.

Eighth in the 100-meter dash at the U.S. Olympic Trials, Richardson made the trip Down Under as the last woman listed on the American 400-meter relay pool.

But there she was Friday in Stadium Australia, running the anchor leg in the first two rounds. And helping the U.S. advance to Saturday's finals.

"I'm really excited," Richardson said after the semifinals. "I felt good. Coming in with slight chances of running, to run in the first and second rounds, it feels great. It feels great!"

Richardson attended Lathrop High School in Fairbanks as a freshman, winning Alaska state titles in 1990 in the 100- and 200-meter dashes and anchoring Lathrop's 4x200-meter relay to a state record that still stands. Shortly after the 1990 state meet, her family was transferred by the military to the Cleveland, Ohio, area.

A 1997 University of Kentucky graduate who now lives in Kansas City, she got her chance because of hamstring injuries to Inger Miller and Gail Devers. Marion Jones, who was unsuccessfully trying to keep her drive for five (gold medals) alive in the long jump, is set to take over the anchor leg in the finals.

Richardson didn't find out she'd be running until relays coach LaVerne Sweat called Thursday afternoon.

Her reaction was all business. Not much excitement. Just a call to her parents to let them know what was up.

But the 5-foot-1, 112-pounder found her heart racing Friday.

"Oh, wow! Just walking into a stadium of 110,000 people is overwhelming in itself," Richardson said. "To think that the world is looking (in) on you, it's a great feeling. It's kind of nerve-wracking at first, but once the gun goes off, all that kind of goes away."

Chryste Gaines led off the American relay, passing to Torri Edwards, then on to Nanceen Perry and Richardson. The U.S. won its first-round race in 42.92 seconds, slowest of the four heat winners.

The same foursome came back in the semifinals to run 42.82, back of the Bahamas' 42.42. Jamaica won the other heat in 42.15.

"It was close, but we're in the finals," Richardson said. "We hat to let that go now and we just have to go out there and work it in the finals.

"Nanceen and I didn't get a chance to practice any handoffs. Earlier, when we ran the first round, we practiced a couple of handoffs, at the most. That was it. But, hey, we're all used to running relays. We did it all through college, most of us, high school, youth track and field. Once you're used to running those relays, it comes to you second nature."

Richardson, 25, was an Ohio high school champion for Berea and went on to earn all-America honors at Kentucky. She still holds UK records in the 60 (indoors), 100 and the 400 relay. She won a relay gold with the U.S. team at the 1997 World University Games.

The Olympic relay team had the added burden of trying to keep Jones' chances for five gold medals alive. The long jump didn't finish until after both rounds had been run. "Of course it's exciting," she said of her role in Jones' quest. "But at the same time it's exciting for me as well -- to go out there and get me a gold medal as well."

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