One of the most electrifying performances from last weekend's 5A/6A state meet came from Nansemond River senior Syaira Richardson. The Ohio State-bound senior placed first in three of the 5A girls' individual events, and one relay, setting a new state meet record in each one. Her performance paralleled that of another Ohio State track athlete who once won four gold medals while setting, or tying world records in each one -- Jesse Owens in 1935.
Richardson's hand in 40 points catapulted Team War to the 5A girls' state championship. While the team win was not a complete surprise, the four gold medals were.
Richardson's assault on the VHSL record books started early on Friday. With a third place finish in the 55 preliminaries, she set herself up for a Saturday that would be filled with four events.
The morning started with the long jump. Richardson was seeded first, with a best jump of 18-9.5. Early on, it became obvious that she would have to do better, as Maury's Brooke Stith leaped 19-2 on her first jump to take the early lead.
Richardson's response was epic. After nudging her takeoff mark back and forth over the first four jumps, all under 19 feet, the Lady Warrior sprinted down the straightaway, hit the take off board and sailed 19-4.5 on her fifth jump, her first record of the day.
On the sixth jump, she extended her PR to a winning 19-11.
"It was one of those things," said Richardson. "Coach (Justin Byron) put me out there. I don't practice it much, but Coach says to just sprint down the runway and get a good jump." We messed with the marks a lot, but I finally found the right one."
It was after the long jump that Byron imparted a nugget of telepathic information on his young star. "He told me that four golds was a possibility."
Next up was the 55. This would be the surprise of the day for Richardson, as she pulled away from the fray and flew across the line in 6.99, another state record, and a feat that surpassed even her expectations.
"I never expected to break seven seconds in the 55 -- at least not in high school," said Richardson, who bested her PR by .18 seconds. "I'm not really a 55 runner, and I was the #3 seed." Asked about her goal for the short sprint, she added, "I figured that I'd do what I could if it would help the team."
As expected, Nansemond River and Maury, led by the efforts of Brooke Stith and Maya Seay, locked horns and topped the team leader board for most of the day. The Commodores stayed within 10 points of the Lady Warriors, but Richardson was about to help her team in a big way as the meet wound down to its final three events.
While warming up for the 300, her third event, Richardson began to visualize the rest of her day.
"Once I won the 55, I started to think that (four gold medals) was a possibility."
The 300 race provided another personal best and state meet record for Richardson at 38.26, but in retrospect, was somewhat anticlimactic.
"It was a PR, but I have kind of done that already this reason," she said, again noting that the long jump and 55 were more significant because of the surprise factor in her performances. However, Byron and Team WAR were more excited about the 10 added points from their event winner, which pushed their lead well into double digits. Fourth and fifth places from teammates Anaya Monroe and Tre'breh Scott-McCoy tacked on another nine points, extending the lead over Maury to 19.
The meet was wrapped up for Nansemond River before the last event, the 4x400 relay, but there was one more curtain call to put the cap on Richardson's virtuoso performance. The Lady Warriors blew away the competition, winning the relay in 3:54.78, 12 seconds ahead of runner-up Menchville. In the end, their 98.5 team points was well ahead of Maury's 69.5.
Richardson's performance brought up reminders of another Lady Warrior great -- Brandee' Johnson, now running for the University of Florida. The two got to train together in high school for three years.
"She definitely helped me to stay determined. Training with (Brandee') helped me focus because track is a sport where only the strongest survive."
After Johnson's graduation, there was concern that the Lady Warriors might not have the firepower to repeat as champions. Overcoming adversity made Saturday's win all the more satisfying for Richardson.
"It means a lot to me. People doubted our team and said we couldn't win states. To come back as strong as we did means everything."
The New Balance Nationals are next for Nansemond River, and Richardson had just gotten off the phone with Coach Justin Byron.
"He was asking me what events I wanted to run. That surprised me."
It might be a reward for a record-breaking performance. Unfortunately, Richardson has not decided on her events, and will do so this week.
She seems to be more decisive in her future plans. Richardson will be majoring in biology at Ohio State with the goal of becoming a dentist.