Disqualified sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson was left off the USA Track and Field Olympic roster that was released Tuesday, eliminating her from the competition.
The move comes after Richardson tested positive on June 19 for THC, the psychoactive substance in cannabis, which she said she used after hearing that her mother had died.
The US Anti-Doping Agency announced Richardson’s suspension on Friday, citing the World Anti-Doping Agency’s anti-doping rules. Now, the decision by the USA Track and Field means the young American frontrunner for gold won’t participate in either the relay team or the 100-meter individual race after winning at the Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon, last month.
“First and foremost, we are incredibly sympathetic toward Sha'Carri Richardson's extenuating circumstances and strongly applaud her accountability — and will offer her our continued support both on and off the track,” USA Track and Field said in a statement Tuesday. “While USATF fully agrees that the merit of the World Anti-Doping Agency rules related to THC should be reevaluated, it would be detrimental to the integrity of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track & Field if USATF amended its policies following competition, only weeks before the Olympic Games.”
USATF added that its “credibility as the National Governing Body would be lost if rules were only enforced under certain circumstances.”
The team extended “heartfelt understanding” to Richardson, but reiterated it must “maintain fairness” for other athletes who qualified for a chance to compete in Tokyo. The team released its updated roster with Gabby Thomas slated for the women’s 100-meter relay and Javianne Oliver, Teahna Daniels, and Jenna Prandini listed for the 100-meter individual race.
BuzzFeed News has reached out to Richardson's agent Renaldo Nehemiah, the World Anti-Doping Agency, and USATF for further comment.
Richardson took full responsibility for her decision to use cannabis, citing her mother's recent death.
"To put on a face, to have to go in front of the world and put on a face and hide my pain, like, who am I to tell you how to cope when you're dealing with a pain or dealing with a struggle that you've never experienced before?” the Dallas native said on Today of her mistake. “I was definitely triggered and blinded by emotions, blinded by badness, and hurting, and hiding hurt.”
Richardson also apologized on Twitter, writing, “I’m sorry I can’t be y’all Olympic Champ this year but I promise I’ll be your World Champ next year.”
There had been some ambiguity about Richardson’s potential to compete. According to World Athletics rules, USATF had two discretionary picks besides the top four athletes in the 100-meter final, the Associated Press reported. The two flex spots were awarded to English Gardner and Aleia Hobbs before Richardson’s suspension was shortened from three months to 30 days, so adding Richardson would have meant cutting someone else, USA Today reported.
The 21-year-old’s 30-day suspension will end before the relays begin on Aug. 5, also raising the question of whether she would be able to run as part of the relay team. But her name was not on the roster as of Tuesday, meaning all of Richardson’s Olympic medal chances have been dashed for the year.
USATF’s decision also begs the question of why a drug that is legal and not performance-enhancing merits disqualification. According to USADA's statement on Richardson’s disqualification, THC is classified as a “Substance of Abuse” because “it is frequently used in society outside the context of sport.”
In 2020, the World Anti-Doping Agency announced key changes to disciplinary measures for Substance of Abuse, specifically if an athlete can argue the use was out of competition and unrelated to sport performance. These changes directly apply to Richardson’s case.
“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,” USADA said. “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.”
Still, fans reacted angrily to the news — a petition to the USADA, the International Olympic Committee, and the World Anti-Doping Committee had garnered nearly half a million signatures by Tuesday evening.
“The imposition of a penalty against a world-class Black, queer, woman athlete is powerfully and infuriatingly reminiscent of the way drug laws are regularly applied in the United States,” the petition states. “Recreational marijuana use has been de facto legal for upper-middle-class white people for years — something more states are recognizing as they legalize marijuana for all people and consider how to repair the damage done to Black and brown communities by decades of the ‘war on drugs.’”
President Joe Biden also weighed in on her disqualification, telling reporters on Saturday that “rules are the rules."
"Everybody knows what the rules are going in,” he added. “I was really proud of the way she responded.”
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