Four years ago, after David Tyree had somehow super-glued the football to his helmet and the New York Giants escaped with a crazy 17-14 victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, it all seemed possible under the stadium tunnel that Arizona evening for Sanya Richards-Ross.
Her husband, Aaron Ross, a Giants defensive back, was now and forever a Super Bowl champion.
And she was on her way to the 2008 Beijing Games, the IAAF’s 2006 female world athlete of the year with an American-record 48.7 in her specialty, the 400-meters. Nine times in 2006 she ran under 50 seconds. That year she literally went undefeated.
Ross’ Super Bowl ring had to be an omen, right? Surely she would now be an individual Olympic gold medalist herself?
Fate works in funny ways.
Sanya Richards-Ross is indeed an Olympic gold medalist. She would go on to win gold in the 4×400 relay in Beijing with a stirring anchor leg.
The thing is, she had already won Olympic gold in that same relay, in Athens in 2004.
In the open 400 in Athens, she was not favored to win, and didn’t, coming in sixth.
In the open 400 in Beijing, she absolutely was favored to win but did not. She came in third. She went out of the blocks hard, too hard. She was overtaken down the stretch by both Christine Ohuruogu of Great Britain and Shericka Williams of Jamaica.
In 2009, however, at the world championships in Berlin, Sanya won the open 400 decisively, in 49 flat.
Again, though, fate works in funny ways.
This past summer, at the 2011 world championships in Daegu, South Korea, Sanya struggled to even make the 400 final. She was hurt. And there was a lot on her mind — a lawsuit with a former agent, contract issues, distractions.
In that Daegu 400 final, Sanya finished seventh. Amantle Montsho of Botswana won the race, in 49.56; American Allyson Felix came in second, just three-hundredths of a second back in one of the most thrilling finishes of the 2011 championships.
Sanya came home in 51.32.
Underneath the tunnel that night in Korea, Sanya vowed 2012 would be different.
A couple days ago, running indoors at a little meet in Fayetteville, Ark., Sanya opened her season with a 23.18 in the 200 and a 51.45 in the 400. Both were world-leading times, though Vania Stambolova of Bulgaria would run a 51.26 three days later in Vienna in the 400.
It’s not that important that Sanya’s times are world-bests in January. Nobody’s giving out Olympic medals in the dead of winter.
What’s telling is that she’s turning out fast times while bearing a heavy training load — the same way swimmers like Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte can win races in mid-winter even while churning out thousands of yards.
What’s impressive, too, is that she decided to run in Fayetteville pretty much at the last minute. She hadn’t done any real speed work and had, to tell the truth, been planning — is still planning — to run next Saturday in the Millrose Games in New York.
“To be ready to run that well, with the load I have right now in my training … is very exciting and it’s how I hope to be able to model my entire season,” Sanya said in a very quiet voice.
The reason Sanya was speaking so quietly was that she was in a hotel room in Indianapolis, and Ross — that’s what she calls her husband — was taking a nap, resting a couple days before Super Bowl XLVI, and she didn’t want to disturb him.
Ross has been a rock for Sanya, showing her — yet again — how to handle the ups and downs of being a professional athlete. This season, for instance, he was benched in Week Two after giving up two big pass plays to Danario Alexander of the St. Louis Rams. But with injuries to Terrell Thomas and Prince Amukamara, Ross got another chance to start. And he has been in the lineup since, opposite Corey Webster.
“It’s funny,” she said, speaking softly when asked to compare the experience four years ago with this year’s Super Bowl week. “My hubby — he is a man of few words. Nothing really gets to him. That is what I admire about him. He is always a happy camper.
“… That has helped me a lot this season. I am more emotional. I wear my heart more on my sleeve. He reminds me that is a business and that I shouldn’t take things so personally. I shouldn’t take these things to heart. That has helped me tremendously — helped me a whole lot, not just going into this year but, I hope, the rest of my career.”
Who knows what fate holds? It’s a fact that when Sanya Richards-Ross is healthy she’s as good as anyone.
“My training is right on schedule,” she said, adding with a laugh, not too loud so as to be sure not to wake up her husband, “I don’t want to make any predictions. We didn’t make any predictions about Ross going to make it this far,” and who would have predicted the Giants beating the Patriots four years ago?
“I’m just going to take it easy and have fun,” she said. “I really, really want to claim my first individual gold medal. That is my target for sure.”