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Richards-Ross cruises into Olympic 400 final

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MARK LONG | August 4, 2012 06:02 PM EST | AP

LONDON — American runner Sanya Richards-Ross walked through Olympic Stadium carrying her gold-bottomed cleats.

If things go as planned, she'll be doing the same with a gold medal.

Richards-Ross won her semifinal heat in the women's 400 meters Saturday night, setting a blistering pace before coasting to a spot in the final.

It sure looked like she was showing off. If so, who could blame her? She had her husband, Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Aaron Ross, on hand for his first Olympics.

"The race went really, really well," Richards-Ross said. "I felt like I was able to just run 300 (meters) and relax. That gives me a lot of confidence and I was able to conserve a little bit more for (the final) tomorrow."

Richards-Ross' husband left training camp Friday and arrived Saturday morning, just in time for them to spend some time together before the race. Ross had to be impressed. After all, Richards-Ross was way out front when she turned for home and looked every bit ready to win her first Olympic individual gold medal.

Richards-Ross, a two-time gold medalist in the 4x400 meters, has spent four years thinking about what went wrong in Beijing. She took home bronze back then, a disappointing finish for someone who dominated just about every 400-meter race leading up to the 2008 Beijing Games.

"I think what I did four years ago incorrectly was I didn't stay in my lane and run my race," she said. "I've had four years to think about it, and I'm not going to make that same mistake tomorrow."

Richards-Ross' experience four years ago left her crying under the grandstands after she had come into those Olympics as the favorite.

Though she would likely never admit it, health issues may have contributed to her third-place finish. She spent five years fighting an autoimmune disease called Behcet's syndrome. Now, Richards-Ross thinks she may have been misdiagnosed.

A visit to a new doctor last year resulted in a new diagnosis and a new treatment, and the five-time U.S. champion at 400 meters arrived in London feeling better than she has in years.

Behcet's causes painful sores in the mouth and across the body and, at times over the past several years, Richards-Ross has had to cut her training after experiencing those symptoms.

Her husband played a key role in keeping her spirits up through it all.

And having him here for what could be a defining moment would make it even more special.

"He's here. He's almost on the front row," she said. "I saw him when I came off (the track), sitting with my mom and dad and my cousin. It's really, really great to see him before I started to compete. We saw each other. I blew him a kiss, so he definitely saw me."

Now, if only he can see her win gold.