Sha'Carri Richardson suspended for positive marijuana test, barred from signature race at Tokyo Olympics

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Sha'Carri Richardson competes in the Women's 100 Meter semifinals on day 2 of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials
Sha'Carri Richardson won the 100m at the Olympic Trials last month in just 10.86 seconds, and was expected to compete for a Gold medal in Tokyo. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, a medal favorite in the 100-meter dash at the upcoming Olympics, tested positive for marijuana last month and won't be able to run her signature race at the Tokyo Games.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced Friday morning that Richardson had accepted a one-month suspension after testing positive for THC, the primary psychoactive compound of cannabis. The positive test occurred after Richardson won the 100 at U.S. Olympic Trials on June 19.

She has been retroactively disqualified from trials, and her place in the event in Tokyo has been handed to the fourth-place finisher, Jenna Prandini. Gabby Thomas, who finished fifth, will become the alternate. 

Richardson's suspension began June 28, meaning she'll be reinstated in time for all track events at the Olympics. USA Track & Field could still name her to a relay team.

Richardson, in an interview with the Today Show on Friday morning, confirmed that she ingested marijuana just days before Olympic trials, after learning of the death of her biological mother. She said she learned of her mother's death from a reporter, "a complete stranger." She said that experience was "definitely triggering" and "nerve-shocking," and that it sent her into "a state of emotional panic."

She did not say specifically that that is why she used marijuana, but spoke about "dealing with my mental health," and having to "put on a face" with cameras on her, in the biggest moment of her track career. "I know that I can't hide myself, so at least, in some type of way, I would just try to hide my pain," she said.

On Thursday, after learning of the positive test, she tweeted: "I am human."

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On Friday, Richardson apologized to fans and sponsors, and took responsibility for her actions. "I know what I did, I know what I'm supposed to do, what I'm allowed not to do," she said. "And I still made that decision."

Although marijuana use is legal in Oregon, where trials took place, and in other U.S. states, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) considers cannabis a “substance of abuse.” All cannabis-based products except for cannabidiol, or CBD, are on WADA's 2021 Prohibited List and banned “in-competition." The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and USA Track and Field adhere to WADA's code.

[Read more: Why is marijuana still on WADA's prohibited list?]

The maximum punishment for a positive test is a years-long suspension. The minimum length is one month. WADA guidance states that, “if the athlete can establish that any ingestion or use occurred out-of-competition and was unrelated to sport performance, then the period of Ineligibility shall be three months." And it "may be reduced to one month if the athlete satisfactorily completes a substance of abuse treatment program.”

USADA said Friday that "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." The anti-doping body said she was the third athlete to accept such a suspension for a "substance of abuse" this year. Just last month, 400-meter runner Kahmari Montgomery also accepted a one-month ban for marijuana.

On Richardson's suspension, USADA CEO Travis Tygart said that “the rules are clear, but this is heartbreaking on many levels."

Richardson, 21, had been widely considered a potential breakout star at the Olympics. She won the 100 at trials in 10.86 seconds.

The former LSU star turned pro after her first season with the Tigers, but not before she won the NCAA title and set a record in the 100 after running it in just 10.75 seconds. Just before trials in April, Richardson ran the sixth-fastest time in the history of the event, a personal best of 10.72.

Only one other person in the world — Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce — has recorded a faster 100 time this year. Fraser-Price, who ran it in 10.63 seconds, is a two-time gold medalist in the event. Their showdown was one of the most anticipated races at the Olympics, which begin July 23.

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