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Sha’Carri Richardson will miss Tokyo Olympics after exclusion from U.S. 4x100 relay team

Sprinter Sha'Carri Richardson will not be part of the United States’ 4x100 team at the Tokyo Olympics after testing positive for marijuana usage on July 1. (Video: Reuters)
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Suspended star Sha’Carri Richardson will not be part of the United States’ 4x100 team at the Tokyo Olympics, according to the roster USA Track & Field unveiled Tuesday evening, extinguishing the 21-year-old sprinter’s last chance to participate in this summer’s Games.

Richardson, the 100-meter champion at the U.S. Olympic trials last month, had been ruled out of her signature event because of a positive marijuana test and subsequent one-month suspension that ignited debate across the sports world and beyond. Richardson had steeled herself for the possibility she would be forced to watch the Olympics at which she could have become a gold medal winner and a global sensation.

“Right now, I’m just putting all of my energy into dealing with what I need to do to heal myself,” Richardson said Friday on the “Today” show. “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.”

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In a statement, USATF offered sympathy and support for Richardson while applauding her accountability and saying it “fully agrees that the merit of the World Anti-Doping Agency rules related to THC should be reevaluated.”

But because Richardson’s results at the trials were disqualified as part of her punishment, USATF said it believes selecting her for the relay team would have betrayed its selection process.

“It would be detrimental to the integrity of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track & Field if USATF amended its policies following competition, only weeks before the Olympic Games,” USATF’s statement read. “All USATF athletes are equally aware of and must adhere to the current anti-doping code, and our credibility as the National Governing Body would be lost if rules were only enforced under certain circumstances.

“So while our heartfelt understanding lies with Sha’Carri, we must also maintain fairness for all of the athletes who attempted to realize their dreams by securing a place on the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team.”

The doping rules that cost Sha’Carri Richardson have a debated, political history

Richardson tested positive for marijuana, which is listed as a substance of abuse on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s prohibited list, at last month’s U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore. Richardson said she used marijuana to cope with the discovery that her biological mother had recently died, which she learned from a reporter during an interview. The new information, combined with the pressure to perform, left her “in a state of emotional panic,” she said.

On Friday, operating under WADA code, the United States Anti-Doping Agency suspended Richardson for 30 days and vacated her results from the trials, making her ineligible to compete in the 100 meters at the Olympics under USATF’s selection process.

Despite the ban, Richardson still had hope of competing in Tokyo. The relay will take place Aug. 5 and 6, after Richardson’s suspension expires. USATF strictly uses trials performance to select teams for individual events, but under its rules for relays it has greater discretion to choose athletes.

USATF filled its 4x100 relay pool spots with English Gardner and Aleia Hobbs, who finished sixth and seventh at the trials, the best finishes behind Richardson among sprinters not already on the team. Gardner is a repeat Olympian. U.S. track coaches can fill out the Tokyo relay team with any sprinters who have qualified for the Games, which includes Teahna Daniels, Javianne Oliver, Jenna Prandini and Gabby Thomas.

Richardson launched into sudden fame with her performance at the trials, blowing away the field in all three rounds of the 100 meters with striking style and bravado. Having entered as the second-fastest woman in the world this year, she ran with flame-like orange hair flowing behind her, long fingernails and extended eyelashes, evoking her idol and one of the greatest American sprinters, Florence Griffith Joyner. After a dazzling semifinal race, Richardson proclaimed to an on-track NBC interviewer, “I want the world to know I’m that girl.”

Jerry Brewer: An outdated policy brought Sha’Carri Richardson more of what she was trying to avoid: Pain

The suspension drew reaction from American lawmakers. On Saturday, President Biden said: “Everybody knows of the rules going in. Whether they should remain the rules is a different issue, but the rules are the rules. … I was really proud of the way she responded.”

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 WADA and USADA expressing “dismay” over Richardson’s suspension. The pair urged the bodies 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.

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