The Only Way Sha'Carri Richardson Could Still Compete at the Olympics
The track and field star was suspended after testing positive for marijuana. But it's not over yet.
Every two years—or three, in the case of this year's games—hundreds of athletes head to the Olympics to represent Team USA. But only a handful really capture the hearts of Americans. This year, before the long-awaited games even kicked off in Tokyo, one had already done just that: 21-year-old Sha'Carri Richardson, a sprinter who placed first in the women's 100-meter race at the U.S. track and field trials in June. But now, less than a month before the Olympic games kick off on July 23, Richardson has been disqualified from the 100-meter after testing positive for marijuana. While Richardson won't be able to compete in her signature race, there is one way she could still compete at the Olympics in Tokyo. Read on to find out how, and what she thinks of the possibility.
Sha'Carri Richardson is suspended for 30 days and can't compete in the 100-meter race at the Olympics.
After her victory in the 100-meter race at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon, on June 19, Richardson tested positive for marijuana use, which nullifies her first-place win. In a statement, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) said, "Richardson's competitive results obtained on June 19, 2021, including her Olympic qualifying results at the Team Trials, have been disqualified, and she forfeits any medals, points, and prizes."
She accepted a one-month suspension that began on June 28, and will therefore be up on July 28. The Olympic games begin on July 23 and end on August 8, but Richardson's disqualification means she cannot compete at the 100-meter race in Tokyo, whether or not her suspension is up in time.
THC was newly classified as a substance of abuse by the USADA; a positive test result for any substance of abuse is typically met with a three-month suspension, according to the USADA's statement. But because Richardson completed a counseling program and because "use of the substance occurred out of competition and was unrelated to sport performance," the USADA reduced her suspension down to the minimum of one month.
"The rules are clear, but this is heartbreaking on many levels; hopefully, her acceptance of responsibility and apology will be an important example to us all that we can successfully overcome our regrettable decisions, despite the costly consequences of this one to her," USADA CEO Travis T. Tygart said in a statement.
But she could still be selected for the women's 4 x 100-meter relay team at the Olympics.
Though she is disqualified from competing solo at the Olympics, Richardson could compete in the 4 x 100-meter women's relay. USA Today points out that the relay begins Aug. 5, a week after Richardson's suspension ends.
Today reports that Team USA can send up to six athletes as members of the relay pool, four of whom must be entered in individual races, leaving two other spots open, according to World Athletics rules. The USA Track & Field (USATF) head relay coach makes those selections in "consultation and cooperation with the respective 2020 Olympic Games Head Coach or his/her designee, USATF's Chief of Sport Performance, USATF High Performance Division Chair and one non-competing athlete selected by USATF's Athletes Advisory Committee who has World Championship and/or Olympic experience in the 4x100m or 4x400m relays," according to the agency's rules.
"Beyond the one-month sanction, athlete eligibility for the Tokyo games is determined by the USOPC and/or USA Track & Field eligibility rules," the USADA said in their statement about Richardson, passing the baton to the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee and USATF.
For their part, USATF released a broad statement about Richardson, saying, "Sha'Carri Richardson's situation is incredibly unfortunate and devastating for everyone involved. Athlete health and well-being continue to be one of USATF's most critical priorities and we will work with Sha'Carri to ensure she has ample resources to overcome any mental health challenges now and in the future."
Richardson herself isn't holding her breath at the moment. "Right now, I'm just putting all of my time and energy into dealing with what I need to do, which is heal myself," she said during an appearance on the Today show Friday morning. "So if I'm allowed to receive that blessing, then I'm grateful for it. But if not, right now, I'm going to just focus on myself."
Richardson said she used marijuana after finding out about the death of her biological mother.
While appearing on Today to address the situation, Richardson told co-host Savannah Guthrie that she learned of her biological mother's death from a reporter during an interview a week before the Olympic trials. After that, she said she went into "a state of emotional panic."
Richardson said she wasn't looking for sympathy, but wanted to provide context to the situation. Guthrie also noted that recreational marijuana use is legal in the state of Oregon, but is still forbidden by the USADA.
"I want to take responsibility for my actions. I know what I did. I know what I'm supposed to do. I know what I'm allowed not to do, and I still made that decision," Richardson said. "[I'm] not making an excuse or looking for any empathy in my case, but, however, being in that position in my life, finding out something like that, something that I would say is probably one of the biggest things that have impacted me … that definitely was a very heavy topic on me."
She continued: "People don't understand what it's like to have to … go in front of the world and put on a face and hide my pain."
Richardson was remorseful for her actions, saying, "As much as I'm disappointed, I know that when I step on the track, I don't represent myself. I represent a community that has shown me great support, great love, and, to y'all, I failed you all. So I apologize for the fact that I didn't know how to control my emotions or deal with my emotions during that time. … I greatly apologize if I let you guys down, and I did."
Richardson is determined to return for future Olympic games.
Whether or not Richardson gets the opportunity to compete in the 4 x 100-meter relay at the Olympic games in Tokyo remains to be seen, but she is determined to return to the track ASAP. "This will be the last time the Olympics don't see Sha'Carri Richardson, and this will be the last time the U.S. doesn't come home with a gold metal in the 100," Richardson said on Today.
"This is just one games. I'm 21. I'm very young," she added. "I have plenty of games left in me to compete in, and I have plenty of talent that backs me up. … After my sanction is up, I'll be back and able to compete."
She also assured those listening that she will never use marijuana, nor any kind of drugs that do affect performance while competing in the future. "There will never be a steroid attached to the name Sha'Carri Richardson," she said. "This will never happen again."