- Olympian Sanya Richards-Ross will be the first Olympian on the popular Real Housewives series, joining the cast of The Real Housewives of Atlanta.
- Richards-Ross is a five-time Olympic medalist, author, track commentator, and founder, along with being a television personality.
- The 14th season of the show premieres on Sunday, May 1 on Bravo.
Since retiring from professional track and field in 2016, Sanya Richards-Ross has established herself as a multi-hyphenate in the sport and beyond. This year, the four-time Olympic champion, author, sports commentator, television personality, and founder added another role to her growing list of accomplishments. On May 1, Richards-Ross will make her debut as the newest cast member of The Real Housewives of Atlanta (RHOA).
As an athlete, Richards-Ross became one of the fastest sprinters of all-time, setting the still-standing American record in the women’s 400 meters (48.70) and winning five world championship titles in addition to five Olympic medals for Team USA. In 2012, the Jamaican-born athlete led the U.S. to historic wins in the 4x400-meter relay and the 400 meters at the London Olympic Games.
Now as a Housewife on the 14th season of the drama-filled Bravo series, Richards-Ross, 37, joins a cast that features veterans, including Kandi Buruss, Kenya Moore, Drew Sidora, Shereé Whitfield, and Marlo Hampton. After moving full-time to Atlanta from Austin, Texas, last year, Richards-Ross’s family—she is a mom to Aaron Jermaine Ross II and wife to former NFL star Aaron Ross—social, professional life, and everything in-between, was documented on camera for viewers to see. As the first Olympian cast in the franchise, Richards-Ross aims to show pro athletes the many creative avenues available to them in retirement.
“My goal in doing Real Housewives is to continue to broaden people’s views of athletes and hopefully allow athletes to have opportunities when they have retired from sports to do whatever it is they want to do,” Richards-Ross told Runner’s World. “I don’t ever want to represent all Black women or all athletes, I just really want to do the best to represent myself, but I also do carry that awareness that I am the first athlete doing this thing. And I hope that this allows for more athletes to be able to be in these spaces and dream bigger, and to know that there is life after sports at a high level, if you want to be in front of the cameras or whatever it is.”
Before the series premiere, Runner’s World caught up with Richards-Ross to discuss the process of being cast as a Housewife, the dynamics of the show, and how she embraces her experience as a track and field star on reality TV.
Runner’s World: Joining RHOA is a whole new role for you. How did you become a cast member?
Richards-Ross: I was in Atlanta cohosting a show with Will Packer called Central Ave. I still had my home in Austin, and I hadn't even bought a home here yet. We were discussing if we wanted to move here full time or not. One of the casting directors called me and said, “We’d love to talk to you about the possibility of being on the show.” I was like, me, a real housewife? That's how it started.
There’s obviously a process. You do the interviews and they do a day of filming with you to get a day in the life and see what they would capture and how your family is on camera. I had done a reality TV show before, so they had also seen that. Simultaneously, my husband and I decided that we wanted to move full-time to Atlanta for many reasons. I love the city and I think it’s a great place to raise our family. So, it started with a phone call and I went through the process, and here I am!
What drove you to join the cast of the show?
I’ve always been a fan of Bravo. I just think that the franchise is iconic and a lot of the women on the show have gone on to do such incredible things. I’ve always been the person that says yes to life. So, when opportunities come, I’m always like, wow, this would be such a cool experience. They’ve never had an Olympic athlete on the cast, much less a Jamaican. For me, it was having an opportunity to fill that space, to be the first Olympic athlete and Jamaican on the cast.
Being new to Atlanta, I met Drew Sidora first. She was one of the newest cast members. I thought, What a great opportunity to meet all the ladies and to get rooted and connected in Atlanta.
I’m excited for people to see the season. I think it’s really great. Obviously, I don’t know a lot of what happens with the other ladies when they’re filming. So, for me to see the trailer, it’s like, oh wow, all that was happening too? But as far as my family storyline and the interactions I had with the ladies, it was all really great.
Have you watched past seasons of RHOA? If so, what was your impression of the series?
I had been a big fan of the show, especially in the early years. In the later years of the show, I didn’t watch it as consistently. I would binge watch it when I had time. It was so funny because right before I started filming, I went on a girls trip with one of my closest friends, but with her friends and when I reflected on watching the Housewives, I'm like, this is really what it’s like to be around a group of women. There are ups and downs in the relationships and you have fun experiences, but you also have times where you may not agree on certain things and it can sometimes be more explosive. I think it’s a very real depiction of friendship and sisterhood, and I’ve always been impressed with that.
Did you know any of the cast members prior to filming?
The only one I had met when I first moved here was Drew. She and her husband, Ralph, and me and my husband, Ross, had dinner a couple of times prior to going on the show. I met Kandi in passing at events. We had never hung out prior to the show.
So, meeting all of them for the first time was very interesting because they’re all big personalities and people whom I’ve watched for many years. It was interesting trying to show up as myself with my big personality and really wanting to be accepted in the group and figuring out who are the people I was going to have this organic connection with. It definitely felt overwhelming at times, but then after a while things started to feel easy and there was this amazing bond that started to form that I really appreciated.
From all those years being an athlete competing on teams and getting to know different elite athletes, how does that experience and those dynamics compare to working with this cast of women?
Being a part of track and field for so many years, the stars of the sport cycle in and out and you are around new groups of dynamic and talented women, I think it did help me a lot. What makes track and field so unique, that also works in this housewives space, is that sometimes you’re an individual and you’re training and focusing solely on your individual event. And then you have to put that behind you and be part of a team. I think that’s how it works on this show, too. When I’m doing my family scenes, it’s more the individual part of the show. I’m focused on my husband and my family and what’s important to us, showing the truth of our relationship and experiences in the most vulnerable way that I can. Then I flip to being part of this team when it comes to being with the ladies, but still not shrinking, still being able to show up in a way that empowers everybody else to be authentically themselves as well.
Being in track and field helped a lot because it put me in an environment with other women who are excellent. I remember the first taping, I was like, if I’m going to talk, I’m going to have to speak up. They’re not letting you in. If you have a point to make, you have to raise your voice and be confident, which is something I think you also do in sports. You gotta show up excellent for people to recognize you.
Where is your running at these days?
In my final three years of competing, I had a really bad foot injury, and I had three surgeries back-to-back on my right big toe. It was so unfortunate because running before that had always come very easily to me. I loved being out there. I felt so free running. And the final three years running was really tough and excruciatingly painful for me. I do still run a little bit, but I still have pain in my foot when I run. For training and working out, I do more weight lifting and I bike. My husband and I have a gym downstairs and we work out together.
Who would be the best sprinter on the Atlanta cast?
Believe it or not, we actually had a race this season inspired by me in Jamaica. The person who I thought would’ve been the better sprinter did not win. I was pleasantly surprised that Marlo Hampton might be the best sprinter in this group. It was a bit shocking because if you know Marlo, she’s the diva, she’s the style icon, and she’s not into working out at all. But she can pick those knees up.
I saw the race in the trailer. I love that you went to Jamaica and did that.
I hosted the girls trip this season, and it’s going to be a lot. It was intense. It was fun. I think the best part for me was introducing this new group of friends to my culture. Being from Jamaica and so much of who I am is inspired by my roots, the food, the music, and family. That was amazing for me to be able to do that. I can’t give away a whole lot, but they get to see a lot of where I come from and how important track and field was to me. We went to the national stadium. It was really special.
Who among the cast would you want to work out with?
I would probably say Shereé. We did work out a couple times, and she is big on fitness. She’s the perfect blend of intensity and focus and experience to have a fun workout with while also having girl time. We can laugh, we can talk but she really wants to get the workout in.
The running community is used to seeing you dominate on the track and as a sports commentator. Without giving away too many spoilers, what can fans expect to see from you in this new role?
I do feel like I have always been one of those athletes who has been pretty transparent and open with my life through social media or through interviews, but there’s nothing like having a camera following you for five months. What people will get to see is a closer look at me juggling all the things that I do, especially in my most important role as a wife and mother. It’s not always easy for me to find that balance of giving my family everything they need while also trying to do all the things I do as an entrepreneur and businesswoman. We are going to Jamaica. I do one of my NBC track meets. That’s probably the most compelling part, seeing me in all my roles.
I also convinced my entire family to come to Atlanta. It’s the first time me, my husband and son, my mom, dad, sister, and her husband and their two boys all lived in the same house and we’ve never done that before. That’s also an interesting dynamic the viewers get to see.
And then obviously seeing me with these ladies, the ones you love, the ones you might not love so much, and how I navigate those new relationships will be interesting. Who do I mesh with and who do I clash with? It was a wonderful experience, and I can’t wait to see the final product.
Last question, if you were to put together a reality show, similar to the Real Housewives but with track and field stars, who would you cast?
If I had to put together the cast of The Real Track Stars of Team USA, I would pick myself, Queen Harrison, Sha'Carri Richardson, Nia Ali, Michelle Carter, Sydney McClaughlin, Natasha Hastings, and Morgan Goodwin.
—This interview has been edited for length and clarity.