Richardson, who won the women’s 100 meters at the U.S. Olympic trials last month and was expected to make a major impact in Tokyo with her talent and personality, instead is sitting out the Games. She tested positive for THC, the main psychoactive component in marijuana, and was given a one-month suspension in addition to having her win nullified. The suspension is set to end just in time for her to potentially compete in the 4x100 relay at the Olympics, but she was left off the roster by USA Track & Field.
“I am sorry for her that we have lost an outstanding talent,” Coe said, three days before track and field events get underway in Tokyo. “It is not unreasonable to have a review on it. She will bounce back. It is a loss to the competition.”
Richardson said earlier this month that she used marijuana after learning shortly before the U.S. trials that her mother had died. She described that news as “triggering” and said it sent her into “a state of emotional panic.”
The 21-year-old sprinter apologized and said she took responsibility for her actions. Richardson added that she wasn’t “looking for any empathy” but wanted to share the difficulty of being asked to “go in front of the world and put on a face and hide my pain.”
Her suspension caused some to question why, with marijuana increasingly becoming legalized in the United States and little evidence that it acts as a performance-enhancing drug, it is still banned by athletics organizations.
“One of these days, we should probably either take it off the list entirely, or say it’s there but the minimum sanction should be something like a warning, so you’re not losing any period of eligibility,” International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound, one of the founders of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said earlier this month. “Frankly, I don’t think there’s evidence it’s performance-enhancing, and/or it’s a drug that masks the use of other drugs.”
Two members of the House Oversight Committee, Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), wrote a letter urging WADA and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to reconsider a decision they said was “not supported by any scientific evidence.”
In response, USADA said in a letter that it was bound by WADA code and that Richardson’s suspension was the “absolute minimum sanction” it could have levied against her. USADA added that marijuana’s continued inclusion in WADA’s prohibited list reflected “the consensus of more than 650 sport organizations and virtually all of the governments of the world.”
The agency also disputed assertions that marijuana confers little to no competitive advantages, claiming it has been “reported in scientific literature and anecdotally by athletes that marijuana can decrease anxiety, fear, depression and tension thereby allowing athletes to perform better under pressure and alleviate stress experienced immediately before and during competition.”
Around that time, President Biden said he was “really proud of the way [Richardson] responded” to her suspension but noted that the “rules are the rules.”
“Everybody knows what the rules are going in,” Biden told reporters in early July. “Whether they should remain that way, whether that should remain the rule, is a different issue.”
The 64-year-old Coe, a former track star for England who is also an IOC member, as well as a member of the British House of Parliament, referred to those comments Tuesday.
“I don’t want to sound like Joe Biden,” Coe said (via the Associated Press), “but the rules are the rules and that is the way they have been interpreted.”
Regarding a possible alteration of those rules, Coe said he had already spoken about that with the chairman of the Athletics Integrity Unit, the anti-doping arm of World Athletics.
“The AIU will look at this,” said Coe, “in the light of current circumstances.”
“At the end of the day, we’re human, too,” Biles said. “We have to protect our mind and our body rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do.”
Her remarks echoed one made online by Richardson shortly before she offered her words of apology and explanation for her positive test.
“I am human,” she tweeted.
Coe said Tuesday that “it is not unreasonable to have a review” of rules on marijuana.