Why testing positive for marijuana ruled Sha’Carri Richardson out of the Olympic 100m

Sha'Carri Richardson
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Sha’Carri Richardson will not compete in the women’s 100m at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.

On Friday morning, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) announced that Richardson had been given a one-month suspension after an anti-doping test on June 19, 2021, came back positive for THC, the main psychoactive constituent of cannabis, marijuana, and hashish. Richardson was given a one-month suspension that lasts through July 28, 2021.

In an interview on TODAY on Friday morning, Richardson confirmed that she ingested marijuana before U.S. Olympic Trials, which were held in Eugene, Oregon, last month.

Richardson says she made the decision after learning of the death of her biological mother.

“I want to take responsibility for my actions,” she told TODAY host Savannah Guthrie. “I know what I did, I know what I’m supposed to do… To put on a face, to have to go in front of the world… who am I to tell you how to cope when you’re dealing with a pain or you’re dealing with a struggle that you never experienced before.”

FULL INTERVIEW: Sha’Carri Richardson speaks out about failing drug test ahead of Olympics

Marijuana is legal in Oregon, so why was Sha’Carri Richardson disqualified?

While legal in Oregon, marijuana is banned in athletic competition under the 2021 World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Code. (It is not banned out of competition.)

WADA classifies marijuana as a “Substance of Abuse.” That designation is meant to reflect that the substance isn’t typically used to enhance performance.

While such a rule violation can result in a maximum three-month suspension, Richardson’s suspension – which went into effect on June 28, 2021 – was reduced to one month after she completed a treatment program approved by USADA.

In a statement released on Friday morning, USADA explained the reasoning for Richardson’s one-month suspension.

Richardson’s period of ineligibility was reduced to one month because her use of cannabis occurred out of competition and was unrelated to sport performance, and because she successfully completed a counseling program regarding her use of cannabis. Her one-month period of ineligibility—the minimum allowed under the rules—is the same result as the two other Substance of Abuse cases that USADA has handled since the 2021 Code took effect.

Given that the women’s 100m begins on July 30, and Richardson’s suspension ends on July 28, why isn’t she allowed to compete in the 100m at the Olympics?

If Richardson was from a country other than the U.S., it’s very possible that she would still compete in the women’s 100m at the Tokyo Olympics. After all, her suspension ends before Olympic competition begins, she has the required Olympic standard, and she’s the top-ranked American woman in the event.

But the U.S. decides its Olympic track & field team using the results at U.S. Olympic Trials.

Here is the relevant section of USATF’s official Olympic selection procedures:

The top three (3) place finishers in each event at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials – Men’s and Women’s Track and Field, June 18-27, 2021 (2020 U.S. Olympic Trials), provided they have met the 2020 Olympic Games qualifying standard during the prescribed period, will self-select themselves via head-to-head competition for a position on the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team for the 2020 Olympic Games.

Because Richardson was stripped of her first-place result at Trials, the second-, third-, and fourth-place finishers in the women’s 100m will instead by eligible to compete at the Olympics. If any of those athletes decline, the 100m spot will continue being passed down to the next-best top-finisher at U.S. Olympic Trials. All athletes who competed in final and semifinal rounds of the women’s 100m at U.S. Olympic Trials have the required Olympic standard.

Women’s 100m – U.S. Olympic Trials Results:

  1. Sha’Carri Richardson (result stripped due to anti-doping rule violation)
  2. Javianne Oliver
  3. Teahna Daniels
  4. Jenna Prandini (also qualified in women’s 200m)
  5. Gabby Thomas (also qualified in women’s 200m)
  6. English Gardner
  7. Aleia Hobbs 
  8. Kayla White
  9. Candace Hill

So Sha’Carri Richardson has no hope of competing at the Tokyo Olympics?

Not exactly. While Richardson isn’t eligible to compete in the women’s 100m after being stripped of her result at U.S. Olympic Trials, USATF uses different procedures to determine the relay team.

Here’s the relevant section from the USATF selection procedures:

For the men’s and women’s 4×100 meter and 4×400 meter relays, up to six (6) athletes may be entered as members of each relay pool. The four (4) athletes (including the alternate) entered in the respective individual events (100m and 400m) are required by World Athletics (IAAF) rules to be included in each pool. For each relay pool, in addition to the four (4) athletes listed above, there will be two (2) athletes selected.

Selection of the two (2) additional athletes will be made by the USATF Head Relay Coach, in consultation and cooperation with the respective 2020 Olympic Games Head Coach or his/her designee, USATF’s Chief of Sport Performance, USATF High Performance Division Chair and one non-competing athlete selected by USATF’s Athletes Advisory Committee who has World Championship and/or Olympic experience in the 4x100m or 4x400m relays.

Given those guidelines, it appears possible that Richardson could be selected for the U.S. 4x100m relay team, however, USA Track and Field has not said whether it will consider Richardson for selection.

During her interview on TODAY, Richardson was asked whether she hopes to compete in the relay at the Olympics.

“Right now, I’m just putting all of time and energy into dealing with what I need to do with myself,” she said. “If I’m allowed to receive that blessing, then I’m grateful for it. But if not, right now, I’m really just focused on myself.”

READ MORE: Sha’Carri Richardson tests positive for marijuana, out of Olympic 100m

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