Updated: June 27, 2014 at 11:16 am
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Three months into her comeback from toe surgery, four-time Olympic champion Sanya Richards-Ross is already making significant strides.
She also is poised to add to her collection of national titles in the women's 400 meters.
Richards-Ross ran a relaxed but encouraging 52.39 seconds in her heat Thursday to advance to the semifinals at the U.S. Outdoor Championships. It was a full second slower than Richard-Ross' best time this year and well off her American record set in 2006.
Not that she's worried about it.
"This is the best I've felt all year," Richards-Ross said. "I felt my rhythm down the backstretch was better and I got good position around the curve."
Although the pain in her right big toe hasn't subsided much since the surgery, Richards-Ross is using each meet as another step forward in her recovery.
She looked strong in her heat and was stride-for-stride with Francena McCorory until coasting over the final 10 meters. McCorory finished in 51.64.
More importantly Richards-Ross showed no lingering effects from the surgery she had for Hallux Rigidus, a hereditary condition that is similar to turf-toe injuries suffered by football players.
"It's similar but I think it's worse," Richards-Ross said. "I'm actually in more pain most of the time but I'm getting through."
A small crowd at Hornet Stadium was on hand for the first full day of competition and were treated to one of the more unique sights ever seen on at a track meet.
Five-time national champ Alysia Montano ran in the 800 while 34 weeks pregnant.
Montano completed the race in 2:32.13 and finished last in her heat.
Still, she was beaming afterward.
"I've been running throughout my pregnancy and I felt really, really good during the whole process," Montano said. "I just didn't want to get lapped and be the first person to get lapped in the 800."
The marquee event, the men's 100, was already minus one of its top stars after Justin Gatlin opted to skip the nationals. Then Dentarius Locke, who has the third-fastest time by an American this year, pulled up halfway through his heat and fell to the track.
Two-time US champ Walter Dix also struggled. He placed third in his heat and advanced to the semifinals but his time of 10.38 seconds was only good enough for 13th overall.
In the women's 100, English Gardner edged Tori Bowie by three-hundredths of a second to earn the top seed in the semifinals. Gardner won her heat in 11.30, and Bowie was second at 11.33.
Duane Solomon, who has already clocked three of the top four fastest times in the world this year in the men's 800, coasted to an easy win in his heat. Solomon's time of 1:47.19 earned him the top seed heading into Friday's semifinals.
"I wanted to lead and stay out of trouble and make sure I qualified easily," Solomon said.
Solomon had to alter his workout plans after a rigorous schedule earlier in the year left the reigning national champ with little practice time.
"I was going from meet to meet every weekend and maybe getting one day of practice and training," Solomon said. "When I ran at Mt. Sac I was maybe only 70 percent. We're still trying to build that base up. A couple more weeks and I'll be ready."
Kibwe Johnson won the men's hammer with a heave of 243 feet, 4 inches. AG Kruger, who owns the best mark by an American this year, was second at 240-7.
"I really thought I had another meter or two in me, so I am not terribly happy," Johnson said. "But the main goal was to win and I did that."
Amanda Smock won the women's triple jump on her final attempt. Smock, a three-time national champion, went 45-2 1/4.
In other finals, Galen Rupp won his sixth consecutive national title in the 10,000 in 28:12.07, Kara Patterson won her fifth US championship in the javelin and first since 2011 with her throw of 204-10, and Kim Conley won the women's 10,000 in 32:02.07.