Sanya Richards to turn pro


Sanya Richards to forego final two years of eligibility

AUSTIN, Texas – University of Texas All-American sprinter Sanya Richards (Pembroke Pines, Fla./St. Thomas Aquinas) has opted to forego her final two years of collegiate eligibility and turn professional, the five-time NCAA champion announced on Wednesday. Richards will remain a student at Texas and continue to train with 12th-year UT head coach Bev Kearney, as she works toward completing her degree in business.

“The University of Texas has been great for me,” Richards stated. “I am grateful to (Head coach) Bev (Kearney) and (Director of Women’s Athletics) Chris Plonsky for giving me the opportunity to fulfill my dreams on the collegiate level. The time is right for me now to go to the next level.”

Richards is fresh off a stellar sophomore season which saw her improve her own World Junior Indoor and American Junior Outdoor records in the 400 meters. She broke the World Junior Indoor record with a 50.82 clocking to win her first individual NCAA Indoor crown in March, while also anchoring UT’s 4x400m relay to gold for the second straight season and finishing runner-up in the 200 meters. During the outdoor campaign, Richards anchored the 4x400m relay to a collegiate-record 3:23.75 at the 77th Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays, which broke the previous standard by nearly three seconds. She reset her own American Junior 400-meter record on May 29 with a personal-best 50.49 at the NCAA Midwest Regional in College Station, Texas.

“The past two years have been great,” Richards said. “Not only was I able to reach my goals athletically in setting the indoor collegiate 400-meter record and becoming an NCAA champion outdoors, but also I reached my academic goal when I was accepted into the business school. UT has given me so much and I hope to continue to make everyone proud.”

As a freshman in 2003, Richards had one of the most triumphant debut seasons in collegiate history. She anchored Texas’ 4x400m relay to gold at the NCAA Indoor Championships in a collegiate-record 3:27.66, while finishing runner-up in the 200 and 400 meters. At Outdoor Nationals, Richards became just the second Longhorn in school history to win gold (50.58) in the quarter, while also anchoring the 4x400m relay to victory for the first time since 1999.

Her success during the collegiate season was just a glimpse of what was ahead for Richards during the summer months. She won the 400m at the U.S. Championships, which earned her a spot on Team USA for the ninth IAAF World Track and Field Championships in Paris. Richards went on to advance to the semifinals in the 400m, but her greatest moment came six days later in the 4x400m relay. After running third leg in the heats, Richards gracefully anchored the 4x400m relay to gold in a world-leading 3:22.63 as the youngest member on Team USA.

“Sanya is, and has been since her arrival at UT, a phenomenal athlete,” Kearney said. "Her maturity, dreams and talent will definitely ensure her success at the international level, the same way it has the past two years on the collegiate level.

“In a short period, Sanya’s impact on our program has rivaled the impacts which former NCAA champions Suziann Reid and Carlette Guidry have had on our program,” Kearney continued. “She is irreplaceable. Our team will miss Sanya’s humor and passion, and her achievements have created a legacy which will continue to help our program succeed. We wish her the best of luck in her professional endeavors.”

Sanya Richards Press Conference Transcript

Sanya Richards’ Opening Statement
“Good morning to everyone. Thank you all for being here. First, I would like to thank (Texas head coach) Bev Kearney and (Director of Women’s Athletics) Chris Plonsky for giving me the opportunity to come to such a great university. I think I have accomplished most of my goals athletically and I feel now is the perfect time for me to take my career to the next level and try to be as competitive as I can, which is the reason why I am leaving (the UT women’s track program). I hope I will be able to make everyone proud like I have the past two years.”

What makes this the perfect time?
“It’s an Olympic year and I think I can be competitive if I stay extremely focused. Coming out and making track my career and something I can put all of my attention and energy toward, I think will lead to greater success for me.”

How long have you been thinking about turning professional?
“The thought really entered our (Sanya and her family) minds when we started getting a lot of questions about it and people started to get really interested in me. I’ve always tried to stay focused on my collegiate goals first, and (turning pro) just sort of crept in because everyone else was curious about it. I would say my family and I have been thinking about it for a month and a half.”

What are your thoughts about continuing to attend school at Texas and leaving the program?
“I love the university and I have learned so much here. I have been given so many opportunities and I’m definitely going to finish my degree here and continue to work with Bev, so I’ll be around. The only thing I’m really giving up is my eligibility and being able to step out on the track in a Texas uniform, which is actually really hard for me.”

How difficult was this decision to make?
“It’s a tough decision for more than one reason. I think one of the hardest things is coming in with my class and making a promise to The University, and to my team, that we are going to try to be the best we can for the next four years, but then giving that up because of my own dreams. That is what makes my decision really hard, but I think it is the best for me. My parents and my coach have discussed it many times, and I think its right and hopefully I will continue to be successful.”

Where will you go as far as signing with a team or an agent and where will you train prior to the U.S. Olympic Trials and Olympic Games?
“I will be here in Austin with Bev (Kearney) the entire time leading up to Athens and after that as well. We are actually in the first stages of selecting an agent and going with a company, so that aspect has not been decided yet but it is in the works.”

And there are no shoe contracts to announce at this time?
“Not at this point.”

How long do you anticipate taking care of a shoe deal?
“I think it will likely get done in a week or so, because we definitely want to get it done before the U.S. Olympic Trials so I can just solely focus on my training.”

Did the fact that you suffered a rare loss last week at the NCAA Championships influence your decision at all?
“Not really. I wasn’t going to make my decision contingent upon my placing or the time I posted at the NCAA meet. I think the NCAA Championships were a great experience for me. With everything that happens, I try to take a positive from it and learn from the experience. I think that will just help me on the next level. I feel like I understand myself better as a competitor. I learned a lot about myself this past weekend and I’m just going to take that and go onto the next level and move ahead.”

Have you talked to anyone else who has turned pro or individuals who have recently gone through this type of decision?
“Not really. The people I have been getting my advice from and talking to have been my coach (Kearney), my parents and Michelle Freeman, who was a professional athlete, and still is. But no one else in terms of someone who has just gone through the process or someone else like that.”

There are reportedly some other collegiate athletes who have been considering turning pro. Do you think a trend is developing because there haven’t been a lot of athletes leaving college early in the past?
“I think athletes such as Allyson Felix, Justin Gatlin and Alan Webb have opened doors for this kind of decision to be possible. I don’t know if it will continue to be a trend. I think there were a lot of good athletes this year who had the option to turn pro. If athletes continue to do well in the coming years, they will give themselves that option. I’m not sure how that will turn out in the future or if it will continue to be a trend like it is now.”

What have been the benefits for you these past two years at Texas?
“Being in this arena and learning how to fight for my team, my coaches and my parents has been very beneficial for me, which I’ll take to the next level. It’s been a great time for me and a great experience. I’m excited I went this route and I’m excited I came to college and was able to be a part of The University of Texas track program. I’m happy our team was always in contention for a national title and the fact that I was always placed in a position to contend for a title myself. The benefits of my situation have been that I was with coach Kearney, Chris Plonsky and The University, and I still have the opportunity to finish my studies and fulfill my dreams as a professional athlete.”

Have you talked to any of your teammates about your decision?
“Yes, I talked with (sophomore) Ashlee Williams and (sophomore) Sheretta Jones and they are both excited for me. They think I have done well and they are not disappointed. They are looking forward to how I will do on the professional level. Everybody has had good things to say and that is encouraging.”

What did Bev say?
“Bev told me she thinks she has done her part as a coach and believes I have given back to her and represented The University very well. Whatever my decision, Bev would stand by me and that is what she has done. Our relationship is great and is getting even stronger now.”

What are your plans from now until the U.S. Olympic Trials (July 9-18 in Sacramento, Calif.)?
“I’m going to train up until the trials and then make the Olympic team, not ‘hopefully’ and not ‘if.’ I don’t think I will compete anywhere between the Trials and the Olympic Games. My professional career will probably start after the Olympics are over, maybe a couple of meets following the Games or next year even. My focus right now is to make the Olympic team and perform well in Athens.”

Did winning the 400m at U.S. Nationals and anchoring Team USA’s gold-winning 4x400m relay over in Paris at the World Championships this past summer give you an idea you were ready for the next level?
“It gave me a glimpse into what everyone else was talking about. My parents and Bev always tell me I’m running well and I am ready for the next level, but to actually go over there and experience it and leave with a little bit of success, that gave me the confidence I needed to know that this is a good decision and I’ll be able to be competitive and run well.”