Sha'Carri Richardson's Olympic dreams have been put on hold after receiving a month-long suspension from athletics. This decision was handed down from the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), after Richardson, 21, tested positive for tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC. The ban started on June 28, 2021.
Athletes who test positive for banned substances usually receive a three-month ban. However, according to the USADA, Sha'Carri Richardson's response to this showed maturity and ownership for her actions. She also successfully completed a counselling program.
“Hopefully, her acceptance of responsibility and apology will be an important example to us all,” said USADA CEO Travis Tygart.
The month-long ban means that Richardson cannot compete in the Women's 100 m race at the Tokyo Olympics. However, she has been met with support from an array of political figureheads – from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, to Donald Trump Jr.
Here, Ocasio-Cortez suggested that USADA withdraw the suspension, while Trump Jr. tweeted, “Let her compete, I'm pretty damn sure weed has never made anyone faster.”
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What does this mean for Sha'Carri Richardson's career?
Sha'Carri Richardson's ban ends on July 28, 2021. With the Women's 100 m event beginning in Tokyo on July 30, does this mean she can compete? Despite the two-day gap, Richardson will not be competing in the Women's 100 m event.
This is because, in the light of her positive THC test, her victory in the US trials is nullified. Therefore, instead of leading the team to victory at the Women's 100 m event, Richardson might simply have to watch from the sidelines. Thankfully, this does not mean that her Olympic dreams are completely void this year.
In fact, Sha'Carri Richardson could still compete in the Women's 4×100 relay race. Here, the US Olympics team can select up to six athletes for the event. While the first four consist of the top four finishers in the 100 m heat, the team can also include two arbitrary choices.
Therefore, Richardson could still make an Olympic appearance. However, this will not include her signature event – the Women's 100 m race.
Richardson's response, and next steps
To her credit, Sha'Carri Richardson has been extremely vocal about her THC-positive results. “I want to take responsibility for my actions,” she said, in an interview with NBC. “I know what I did, and what I'm not supposed to do.”
Richardson also took to Twitter to express herself. After news broke, she simply tweeted, “I am human.”
This simple reminder is a stellar example of who Sha'Carri Richardson really is. She is, after all, a young, queer, Black woman, thrust under the spotlight after running 100 m in 10.75 seconds. This record has made her the fastest woman in the world.
She expanded on this statement during her NBC interview. According to Richardson, she learned of her biological mother's untimely death during the Olympic trials. Emotionally distraught, she turned to marijuana, which resulted in a positive test.
“I am human – I am you, I just happen to run a little faster,” Richardson elaborated, during her NBC interview. She went on to say that she completely understands the backlash. Richardson also expressed disappointment in herself, feeling as though she let down her family, friends, team, and sponsors.
However, she also asks not to be judged for one error. In fact, Sha'Carri Richardson is determined to come back better, faster, and stronger. “I promise I'll be your World Champ next year,” she tweeted, as if to underscore her new lease on athletics and plans for the future.
Is cannabis the real enemy?
With so many athletes – both present and former – turning to opioids, cannabis is a far more benign solution. While opioids have performance-enhancing properties, these results are short-lived. Furthermore, long-term use can cause addiction and liver disease.
Studies show that cannabis is a far less harmful solution. In fact, THC's classification as a performance-enhancing drug is a long-debated one. After all, it often causes feelings of sluggishness, sleepiness. A known psychoactive, it can also cause users to feel high and relaxed.
Therefore, Sha'Carri Richardson's remarkable feats of athleticism – after using THC, no less – is a sheer testament to her skill and talent. Additionally, critics should remember that Richardson had no intention of using performance-enhancing drugs. She simply turned to cannabis as a way to cope with her mother's death.
In fact, Richardson has long since established that she has never used, nor will ever use performance-enhancing drugs. In her NBC interview, she stated that everything she does comes from a natural source – herself, and an intense training routine. She also went on to emphasise this, saying that she would never attach steroids to her name.
On Saturday, American President Joe Biden weighed in on the situation, saying that he was proud of Sha'Carri Richardson's response.
At The Extract, we have to agree. While this might be a blip in Richardson's career, perspectives around cannabis use are changing. With her skill, humility, and hunger for success, we cannot wait to see what she does next.