The celebration for U.S. track star Sha’Carri Richardson ended much sooner than she’d hoped after Olympics officials slapped her with a one-month suspension after testing positive for THC — the chemical in cannabis.
Richardson had secured her ticket to the Tokyo Games after winning the women’s 100-meter race but then failed a drug test administered by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon, on June 19.
The suspension means her qualifying results at the recent Team Trials have been disallowed. She must also forfeit any medals, points and prizes according to a USADA statement.
While the suspension, which began June 28, eliminates Richardson’s running in her signature event at the Tokyo Games, she may have a chance to run in the 4×100-meter relay.
Athletes who test positive for a substance of abuse, including THC – newly-classified in 2021 – usually face a three-month suspension. But they must prove that “their use of the substance occurred out of competition and was unrelated to sport performance.”
Richardson “successfully completed a counseling program regarding her use of cannabis,” which decreased the period of her ineligibility to one month, based on USADA rules.
She spoke about her challenges on July 2 with reporters on NBC’s “Today” show.
“Right now, I’m just putting all of my energy into dealing with what I need to deal with to heal myself,” Richardson said. “I want to take responsibility for my actions – I’m not looking for an excuse.”
“I would like to say to my fans and my family and my sponsorship, to the haters, too, I apologize,” she said. “As much as I’m disappointed, I know that when I step on that track, I don’t represent myself, I represent a community that has shown me great support, great love.”
Richardson ran the 100 meters in 10.86 seconds, one of her five runs under 11 seconds this season. Her impressive showing raised speculations that the U.S. might capture its first gold medal in the women’s race since Gail Devers in 1996.
“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.
During a post-race interview with NBC, Richardson shared surprising news that her biological mother had died just one week earlier, adding that the news was “triggering” and “shocking.”
“In some type of way, I was trying to hide my pain,” she said.”
“Don’t judge me because I am human,” she later noted in sentiments similar to a tweet she sent July 1.
The Drug Policy Alliance, a national organization continues to work to end cannabis prohibition across the country, noting that drug testing often derails the opportunities for success for athletes.
“Drug testing is yet another tool of the drug war and it’s a failure,”said Executive Director Kassandra Frederique in a statement. “Sha’Carri’s suspension serves as a cautionary tale and a reminder of how insidious the drug war is in our everyday lives, far beyond the carceral state. Drug testing does nothing to show current impairment. The USADA must undo this archaic, inhumane and unscientific policy.”
Dallas native Richardson, known for her flamboyant lashes, wigs and nails, has been called “the Flo-Jo of our time” by Vogue magazine.
“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 medal in the 100,” Richardson said Friday. “After my sanction is up, I’ll be back and ready to compete. This will never happen again.”