American sprinting champion Sha’Carri Richardson apologized for the positive marijuana test that will prevent her from running her signature event at the Tokyo Olympics, saying in a “Today” show interview Friday that she used marijuana at the U.S. Olympic trials to cope with the discovery that her biological mother had died and the pressure to meet expectations.
Richardson remained hopeful she could race in the 4x100 relay but acknowledged she will miss the 100 meters, the race that propelled her to instant stardom at the trials. Richardson emphasized she has never used performance-enhancing drugs and expressed confidence she will rebound for future Olympics and accepted fault.
Shortly after her interview, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced Richardson had accepted a one-month suspension.
“I want to take responsibility for my actions,” Richardson said. “I know what I did. I know what I’m supposed to do. I know what I’m allowed not to do. But I still made that decision. I’m not making an excuse.”
During an interview at the trials in Eugene, Ore., Richardson said, a reporter informed her that her biological mother had died recently. She said the revelation, along with the pressure to make her first Olympic team, led to her decision to ingest marijuana, which is legal in Oregon.
“To hear that information coming from a complete stranger, it was definitely triggering,” Richardson said. “It was definitely nerve-shocking. It was just like, who are you to tell me that? No offense against him at all. He was just doing his job. But definitely that sent me into a state of mind, a state of emotional panic.
“I still have to go out and put out a performance for my dream, go out there and still compete. From there, just blinded by emotions, just blinded by hurting, I knew I couldn’t hide myself. In some type of way, I was just trying to hide my pain.”
On Friday night, as part of the House Oversight Committee, Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) wrote a letter to the World Anti-Doping Agency and the USADA expressing “dismay” over Richardson’s suspension and urged the agencies to reconsider the policies that led to Richardson’s ban. The letter stated the suspension was not supported by science and would punish Richardson “after she inspired the country” at the U.S. trials.
We worked with @RepRaskin and the Subcommittee on Civil Rights & Civil Liberties to formally ask @USAntiDoping to end Sha'Carri Richardson's suspension.— Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@RepAOC) July 3, 2021
Their decision lacks any scientific basis. It's rooted solely in the systemic racism that's long driven anti-marijuana laws. pic.twitter.com/F28c5ScI1D
In a tweet, Ocasio-Cortez said the ban was “rooted solely in the systemic racism that’s long driven anti-marijuana laws.”
“Please strike a blow for civil liberties and civil rights by reversing this course you are on,” the letter stated.
Under track and field’s anti-doping rules, Richardson faces a reduced 30-day suspension for undergoing a treatment program and the disqualification of her results at the trials. USA Track & Field selects its Olympic team for individual events strictly on where athletes finish at the trials, so the vacating of her first-place result would prevent Richardson from running in the 100 meters in Tokyo.
Richardson still could be eligible to be chosen for the 4x100-meter relay if track officials choose. Her suspension is set to expire July 28, two days before the Olympic track and field meet begins. A person familiar with the situation said track officials hadn’t made a decision on Richardson’s eligibility for the Tokyo relay, and neither USATF nor the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee commented on her Tokyo prospects.
“While we are heartbroken, the USOPC is steadfast in its commitment to clean competition and it supports the anti-doping code,” the USOPC said in a statement. “A positive test for any banned substance comes with consequences and we are working with USATF to determine the appropriate next steps. We are dedicated to providing Sha’Carri the support services she needs during this difficult time.”
In a statement, USATF said Richardson’s positive test “is incredibly unfortunate and devastating for everyone involved,” and Richardson indicated that she’s not sure whether she will be tapped for the Tokyo relay team.
“Right now, I’m just putting all of my energy into dealing with what I need to do to heal myself. If I’m allowed to receive that blessing, then I’m grateful for it,” Richardson said. “But if not, right now, I’m going to just focus on myself.”
Richardson won the 100- and 200-meter NCAA titles in 2019 and then almost immediately turned pro. This is her first known positive drug test. According to a USADA database, she has been tested at least 15 times by the American anti-doping body, including six times this year.
Richardson, 21, emerged this year as a threat to win the 100-meter gold medal, running a season-low time of 10.72 seconds and winning the Olympic trials in 10.86. She became an instant star at the trials, her first event performing on a national stage. Richardson ran with flowing orange hair trailing behind her; extended eyelashes; long, colorful fingernails; and fearless bravado.
After winning the 100, Richardson rushed into the Hayward Field stands and hugged her grandmother. Her Instagram followers doubled to more than 1 million, and she received social media shout-outs from, among others, Michelle Obama and Viola Davis.
In WADA’s prohibited list published Jan. 1, the chemical compound found in marijuana, THC, is listed next to cocaine, MDMA/ecstasy and heroin as a substance of abuse. They are considered substances of abuse because they “are frequently abused in society outside of the context of sport,” the WADA rule book reads. The drugs are prohibited in-competition only. Cannabidiol (CBD) is considered an exception, while other cannabinoids are illegal.
“The rules are clear, but this is heartbreaking on many levels,” said Travis Tygart, the USADA chief executive. “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.”
Richardson was provisionally suspended Monday, one day after the track trials concluded. She was subject to a three-month suspension, but her period of ineligibility was reduced to one month, according to USADA, because her marijuana usage occurred out of competition and was unrelated to performance and because she has completed a counseling program. The punishment is in line with two similar cases this year, involving sprinter Kahmari Montgomery and swimmer Tate Jackson.
“There will never be a steroid associated with the name Sha’Carri Richardson,” she said.
As the news began to spread late Thursday night, the track and field world expressed varying degrees of shock that one of its brightest stars might not be able to compete on the sporting world’s biggest stage. Her top sponsor, Nike, said in a statement Friday, “We appreciate Sha’Carri’s honesty and accountability and will continue to support her through this time.”
If Richardson does not run, fourth-place trials finisher Jenna Prandini, who also made the Olympics in the 200 meters, would be first in line to replace her. Javianne Oliver, who finished second, would be declared the winner of the 100 meters.
Richardson found solace in her future. “This is just one Games,” Richardson said. “I’m 21.” But her emergence, at least as an Olympic 100-meter champion, will be delayed at least until the 2024 Paris Games.
“Sitting here, I just say, don’t judge me, because I am human,” Richardson said. “I’m you. I just happen to run a little faster.”