- Associated Press - Friday, June 27, 2014

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.

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