As the best heptathlete in Washington State history, Ellannee Richardson was called upon to contribute in a myriad of ways during the Cougars’ scoring meets. Run the hurdles, high jump, long jump, throw the javelin, do relays — she did it all.
“Even the open 400 meters,” said coach Rick Sloan. “You’d ask her and she’d give you a look, but she’d run and win it. But if you mentioned the intermediate hurdles, she’d just laugh. It was like, ‘What a funny guy.’ It wasn’t something she’d even discuss.”
So what’s going to be her ticket to the Olympic Trials? The 400-meter hurdles, of course.
She has run the race just six times, yet already cracked the seasonal top 10 and achieved the Trials’ automatic qualifying standard by clocking 55.99 seconds at the Home Depot meet in Carson, Calif., in May.
“I really am surprised at how quickly it’s come,” said Richardson. “I knew I was fit enough to run fast, but this race depends so much on how you adapt to your stride pattern. It’s a lot more difficult in a race situation than you think, but I’m starting to get it and that’s why my times are dropping.”
Early in her WSU career, there didn’t seem to be much doubt Richardson would develop into an Olympic contender — but everyone presumed it would be in the heptathlon. She won the Pac-10 championship four times and was twice NCAA runnerup, but chronic back trouble and her decision to join the Cougar coaching staff fulltime combined to steer her in a different direction.
Not that she expected it to be this race, either.
“The 400 is a tough enough event,” said Richardson, who has 52.93 one-lap speed. “I figured if you threw the hurdles in there, it would be 10 times harder. Now that I’ve run the race, I think it’s easier than the 400 — just because you’re focusing on your stride pattern, the finish comes before you even realize it.”
There have been two big adjustments. The first: learning to lead with her right leg over the hurdles. Richardson had always been able to lead lefty running the 100-meter hurdles, but her step pattern in the 400s — 15 through seven hurdles, then two 16s and a 17 — required she alternate.
The second? Not doing seven events.
“It’s nice not to be running from event to event all the time,” she said, “but I miss the heptathlon.
“I’m just glad I’ve been able to do this. Ending my (college) career with the next year being an Olympic year, I knew I would have regretted not pursuing the Trials somehow. Now that I’ve qualified, I need to set another goal for myself.”
– John Blanchette