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Sha’Carri Richardson, the 21-year-old who won the 100 meters at the U.S. Track & Field Trials on June 19, heard the news that her biological mother had died from a reporter who was interviewing her during the 10-day competition. She called it “triggering” and she used marijuana, a prohibited substance according to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
On Friday she accepted a one-month suspension from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which will prevent her from competing in her signature event, the 100 meters, at the Tokyo Olympics on July 30.
“To hear that information coming from a complete stranger, it was definitely triggering,” Richardson told Savannah Guthrie, during an interview on the Today show on Friday. “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.”
TODAY exclusive: Sha’Carri Richardson speaks out about failing drug test ahead of Olympicshttps://t.co/mxa7rZssuz
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) July 2, 2021
USADA issued a statement on Friday confirming that THC, found in cannabis, marijuana, and hashish, was detected above the limit of 180 ng/mL in a test on June 19. Although its use is legal in many states, including Oregon, according to the 2021 WADA code, THC is classified as a “substance of abuse,” because it is “frequently used in society outside the context of sport.”
“The rules are clear, but this is heartbreaking on many levels,” said Travis Tygart, USADA CEO, in a written statement. “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.”
According to anti-doping policy, if an athlete uses such a prohibited substance outside of competition, unrelated to performance, the maximum sentence is a three month ban from competition. Because Richardson completed a substance abuse treatment program approved by USADA, the suspension was reduced to one month.
However, as part of the consequences, Richardson’s 100-meter win at the Trials has been disqualified, so although her ineligibility will be over on July 28, her Olympic qualifying race won’t count. She could have potentially still been chosen to compete in the 4 x 100-meter relay in Tokyo, but that decision rested with U.S.A. Track & Field (USATF) and United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee officials, who decided against it.
USATF issued a statement saying that officials are sympathetic toward Richardson’s “extenuating circumstances” and “strongly applaud her accountability,” and also agree that the WADA rules regarding THC should be reevaluated. But, ultimately, the governing body is compelled to follow the policies as they exist.
“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,” according to a written USATF statement. “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.”
During her interview on Friday, Richardson said she is focusing on healing.
“Right now, I’m just putting all of my energy into dealing with what I need to do to heal myself,” Richardson said, during her interview on Today. “But if not, right now, I’m going to just focus on myself.”
I am human
— Sha’Carri Richardson (@itskerrii) July 1, 2021
Jenna Prandini placed fourth in the 100-meters at the Trials and has been selected to compete in the event at the Games. She also made the Olympic team in the 200 meters. Javianne Oliver was second in the 100 meters at the Trials, and Teahna Daniels finished third to round out the Olympics-bound team.
USATF officials said in a written statement that the situation was “incredibly unfortunate and devastating for everyone involved,” adding that the organization which oversees the sport will provide mental health resources to Richardson.
Richardson captured the attention of track and field fans everywhere during the Trials, including the likes of former First Lady Michelle Obama, not just for her lightning fast racing (she finished her final in 10.86) but her constantly changing hair color and fiery personality. She was also a great U.S. hope for a gold medal in Tokyo.
After crossing the line to win the Trials, Richardson ran up the stands at Hayward Field, in Eugene, Oregon, with an NBC camera crew trying to keep up, to her family to give a long, emotional embrace to her grandmother.
“My grandmother’s my heart, my grandmother is my superwoman, so to be able to just have her here at the biggest meet of my life and be able to cross the finish line and right up those steps knowing I’m an Olympian now, it just felt amazing,” Richardson said, in her post-race interview. “Honestly that probably felt better than winning the race.”
She had also talked about her biological mother’s death on the NBC broadcast that day, but didn’t want to elaborate on their relationship in subsequent interviews.
“I am grateful for her giving me life, bringing me into this world…I will always love and respect her for that and definitely pay her respect every time I step on the track,” Richardson said.