2023 USA 100m: Cravont Charleston Wins One for the Little Guy as Sha’Carri Richardson Gets It Done

EUGENE, Ore. — The United States men’s 100-meter final is not supposed to be a place for an underdog story. Americans have won the last three men’s 100m titles at the World Championships; in the most recent edition, last year at Hayward Field, the US went 1-2-3 for the third time in its history. If you win the US title, you are, by definition, one of the greatest sprinters on Planet Earth. And in track & field, where the clock does not lie, that sort of talent is identified early and snapped up by a shoe company for big money.

Which is what makes the Cravont Charleston story so unlikely. On Friday night at the 2023 USATF Championships, on the same Hayward Field straightaway that hosted last year’s Worlds, Charleston, sporting a white Tracksmith singlet with a red stripe running diagonally across his chest, lined up in lane 6 of the men’s 100 final. To his left: 2022 world 200m champion Noah Lyles in lane 4, 2019 100m world champion Christian Coleman in lane 3, and 2022 world 100m bronze medalist Trayvon Bromell in lane 2. Charleston beat them all, clocking 9.95 to edge Coleman by .01 at the line.

Before Friday, no man had won a US 100-meter title without a shoe sponsor since Justin Gatlin in 2012, and then only because Gatlin was still radioactive after serving a four-year doping ban. Nineteen of the last 22 US 100m champions have been sponsored by either Nike or adidas. While track & field is fighting a constant battle for popularity, the men’s 100 meters is one event that endures. World’s fastest man. It practically sells itself. And in the year 2023, you are not supposed to be able to climb this high in the sport without the support of a major shoe brand.

But this is not quite Cinderella on the track. While Charleston, a 25-year-old North Carolina State grad, had never made an NCAA or US final before tonight, his results in 2023 placed him among the favorites in Eugene. At the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix on May 27, Charleston clocked 9.91 to finish 2nd — a big improvement on his 9.98 personal best — edging Coleman in the process. Three weeks later, Charleston lowered his personal best to 9.90 at a meet in Kuortane, a town of just over 3,000 in western Finland (it’s hard to get into Diamond Leagues when you’ve never made a US final).

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That time put Charleston just .02 behind Fred Kerley‘s 2023 US leader. When Kerley, who has a bye to Worlds in the 100 as reigning world champion, elected to run the 200 only at USAs this week, it left a power vacuum atop the US 100-meter ranks. Someone had to fill it.

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And rather than Lyles, Coleman, or Bromell — all past US 100m champions — it was Charleston who stepped up and delivered on a cool night in Eugene. While Coleman started strongest, as usual, Charleston closed down the gap during the middle of the race and outleaned him at the finish to secure victory. It was tight — Charleston initially thought he was fourth when he crossed the line — but it soon became official: one year after finishing 6th in his semifinal at this meet, Cravont Charleston was the US champion.

“I don’t have any nerves,” Charleston said. “I knew I could race the big guys. I said, just do what you’ve got to do to win and make the team. I’m never really nervous. Not for the 100, anyway.”

Coleman was second, with Noah Lyles in third at 10.00 — his first World Championship berth in the 100 meters after years of dominating the 200. Bromell, battling painful bone spurs in his right foot, could only manage 6th in 10.14; after the race he said he will shut down his 2023 season immediately to undergo surgery.

Finally, the time is right

Four months ago, most US track fans would not have been able to pick Charleston out of a lineup. No one was predicting him as national champion in an event in which the US swept the podium at the 2022 Worlds. But he and his coach Allen Johnson, the 1996 Olympic champion in the 110m hurdles, have long believed it was possible. Johnson recalled the 2017 ACC Championships at Georgia Tech where Charleston, then a 19-year-old freshman, entered the meet with pbs of 10.38 and 21.26 and left with ACC titles in the 100 (a wind-aided 10.07) and 200 (20.76). Johnson knew he had something.

“I was like, this guy can be really good,” Johnson said.

Charleston believed too, but something kept getting in the way — usually his balky hamstring. In 2020, Charleston was among the best sprinters in the NCAA but his chance to make a final fell by the wayside when the indoor and outdoor championships were cancelled due to COVID. In 2021, he ran personal bests of 10.10 in March and 20.16 in April, but a hamstring issue at ACCs derailed his season. And though his pbs offered a hint of potential, sprinters who run five years in the NCAA and don’t qualify for a final do not receive shoe contracts.

“Sometimes it’s just timing,” Johnson said. “Two years ago, had he not gotten injured, I think he probably would have gotten a shoe contract.”

That is what led to Charleston signing with Tracksmith, the Boston-based apparel company known for its preppy, high-end running gear, after the 2022 Mt. SAC Relays. While Tracksmith’s gear is marketed more towards distance runners, it has found success by offering smaller deals to athletes overlooked by the bigger brands or competing in less popular disciplines. In 2021, Tracksmith had 33 athletes at the US Olympic Trials and produced five Olympians. Now it has a US champion in track & field’s signature event.

Charleston may not rep the brand much longer — he said he is free to sign with a shoe company before Worlds and will surely have plenty of offers — but is grateful for the support Tracksmith has provided him, which includes covering travel, lodging, and gear.

“They kind of knew they’re kind of temporary,” Charleston said. “That’s the good thing about them. They help you where they can, how they can. That’s just more than I can ask for.”

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Charleston had broken 10 seconds just once in his life prior to this year. But what the outside world may see as an out-of-nowhere improvement, Charleston views as the opportunity he had always been waiting for. Finally healthy in 2023, and with enough support from Tracksmith to focus on running full-time, Charleston moved back to his native Charlotte, where he makes daily 180-mile round trips for practice with Johnson in Greensboro (Johnson left NC State to replace Duane Ross at North Carolina A&T last summer).

And after years of frustration, Charleston finally began catching some breaks. Kerley opted to run the 200 only at USAs. Lyles got COVID and missed a week of training before USAs. Injuries befell 2022 world silver medalist Marvin Bracy (eliminated in the prelims) and Trayvon Bromell, whose 10.14 in the final was his slowest time since April 2021. That left Coleman — whom Charleston had already beaten this year — as the biggest foe to conquer in the final. Finally, Charleston’s moment had come. On Friday night, he seized it with both hands.

“You hear the big names, Nike, adidas, Asics, all those guys,” Charleston said. “To come out and win with Tracksmith, it’s like anybody can do it. You’ve gotta believe in yourself, believe in your team, believe in God, and you can get the job done, no matter what shoe you wear, what company you wear.”


Sha’Carri Richardson wins first (official) US title and is headed to her first global championship

There was no underdog victory in the women’s 100-meter final that preceded Charleston’s heroics. Ever since she burst onto the scene with an NCAA record as a 19-year-old LSU freshman in 2019, Sha’Carri Richardson has been viewed as the future of American women’s sprinting. For the last two years, Richardson has struggled to handle the expectations and attention — some of it of her own making — that accompany her immense talent.

But Richardson’s motto for the 2023 season has been “I’m not back, I’m better,” and so far she has lived up to it, winning all four of her 100-meter finals. This week in Eugene was the latest example. One year after flaming out in the first round at USAs, Richardson ripped a 10.71 personal best in Thursday’s prelims, the fastest time by an American woman in 12 years. She followed that up with a 10.75 in Friday’s semis and, though she started poorly in the final 90 minutes later (held in cooler weather), Richardson was sensational over the last 30 meters to run down Tamari Davis and run away with the US title in 10.82. 2019 Worlds 200m silver medalist Brittany Brown made her first 100m team by finishing 2nd in a pb of 10.90 while the 20-year-old Davis rounded out the team by holding on for 3rd in 10.99. Seventeen-year-old Mia Brahe-Pedersen, who just wrapped her junior year at Lake Oswego (Ore.) High School, made the final and finished 7th in 11.08.

This was not the first time Richardson had crossed a finish line first in a US championship at Hayward Field. She famously won the Olympic Trials here two years ago, only to be stripped of the title two weeks later after Richardson tested positive for marijuana. Richardson had turned to the drug prior to the race after reportedly learning from a reporter that her biological mother had died a week before the Trials — a fact she revealed to the world in an emotional post-race interview on NBC.

Two years on, Richardson has lost none of her flair for the dramatic — when her name was called during pre-race introductions, Richardson ripped off her bright orange wig to reveal long braids and a star pattern above her right ear, to which the crowd roared its approval. When she met with NBC’s Lewis Johnson after winning the race, Richardson reflected on the growth she has experienced in the past two years.

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“The thing that I remember the most, the last time, I think I stood here, on this stadium, with you, and I did an interview when I knew I wasn’t ready to do one,” Richardson said. “But now I stand here with you again and I’m ready mentally, physically, and emotionally. And I’m here to stay. I’m not back. I’m better.”

Richardson has also been active off the track this week, urging her fans not to pay for USATF.TV, the streaming service that is broadcasting non-televised portions of USAs. Richardson has also worked to stage an athletes-only meeting in Eugene geared toward creating change in the sport. Details about that meeting remain scarce as Richardson declined to speak with the media after her races on Thursday and Friday; USATF said Richardson will address the media at the conclusion of the meet on Sunday.

Barring another positive drug test, Richardson is now headed to the World Championships in Budapest (August 19-27), where she will be among the favorites in the women’s 100 meters. A day earlier, with world champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce yet to race in 2023 and Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah well off her best, Richardson may have been the favorite, but their countrywoman Shericka Jackson, last year’s world silver medalist, ripped a 10.65 to win Jamaican championships on Friday and wrest the world lead away from Richardson.

Even if Fraser-Pryce and Thompson-Herah are not at their best, Richardson vs. Jackson at Worlds is showdown for the sprint world to salivate over. So far in 2023, Richardson is indeed better than her previous self. If things continue according to plan, in Budapest, we will get to see her best.

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