Sha'Carri Richardson banned 1 month for THC, to miss Olympic 100m

Posted at 6:57 AM, Jul 02, 2021

Sha'Carri Richardson, winner of last month's 100m title at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon, has accepted a one-month suspension after testing positive for THC, USADA announced Friday.

According to the anti-doping organization, Richardson's sample from her June 19 trials final contained a urinary metabolite of THC, a chemical found in cannabis, marijuana and hashish. The substance is prohibited under U.S. and international anti-doping policy.

Her trials results from that day have since been disqualified, USADA said, thus wiping out both her U.S. title win and her top-three qualifying finish to earn a berth on the U.S. Olympic women's 100m team. She will not race the event at this summer's Games, which begin this month.

Without those marks Richardson remains the world No. 2 this season behind two-time Olympic 100m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica, with whom she was expected to clash in Tokyo. She scratched from the 200m at trials, leaving no other individual event opportunity.

In an exclusive, nine-minute interview Friday morning with TODAY, the 21-year-old talked about her failed drug test.

"I know what I did, I know what I'm not allowed to do, and I still made that decision," she said. "Not making an excuse or looking for any empathy in my case."

Following her final at trials, Richardson shared with NBC Sports' Lewis Johnson that she had recently lost her biological mother. It turns out, as described in her TODAY interview Friday, she learned about her mom's death during an interview with a reporter prior to the race.

"It was definitely triggering, it was definitely nerve-shocking," she said. "It's like, how are you to tell me that? And no offense against [the reporter] at all, he was just doing his job, but definitely that set me in a state of mind and emotional panic … from there just blinded by emotions, blinded by sadness, blinded by just hurting … I can't hide myself so, at least in some type of way I was just trying to hide my pain."

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Not long after Richardson's TODAY appearance, USATF released a short statement calling her situation "incredibly unfortunate and devastating for everyone involved."

"Athlete health and well-being continue to be one of USATF's most critical priorities," the U.S. governing body for track and field said. "We will work with Sha'Carri to ensure she has ample resources to overcome any mental health challenges now and in the future."

Richardson tweeted the three words "I am human" early Thursday afternoon.

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She was slated to run at this weekend's 2021 Bauhaus Galan Diamond League meet in Stockholm, Sweden.

SEE MORE: U.S. Trials: Sha'Carri Richardson earns 100m Olympic berth

Cannabinoids are banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which identifies them and a few other drugs, like stimulants, as substances of abuse "because they are frequently abused in society outside the context of sport."

WADA's code states that if an athlete "can establish that any ingestion or use occurred out of competition and was unrelated to sport performance" they'll only be suspended for three months.

Furthermore, if the athlete "satisfactorily completes a substance of abuse treatment program approved by [WADA,]" they can get their suspension reduced to one month.

“The rules are clear, but this is heartbreaking on many levels," USADA CEO Travis Tygart said 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."

SEE MORE: U.S. Trials: Richardson runs wind-aided 10.64 in 100m semis

Richardson's known for her confidence and personality on the track. Her electrifying race style at the trials made her an overnight sensation, amassing nearly 1 million new Instagram followers.

Two weeks ago at the trials, she ran 10.86 to win the 100m final. In her semifinal earlier that day, she pointed to the clock as she finished first — her time, 10.64, had it not been wind-aided (2.6 m/s), would've made her joint-third fastest woman of all time behind only Fraser-Pryce and compatriot Florence Griffith-Joyner, who's No. 1 all-time in both the 100m and 200m.

As soon as she caught her breath after conquering the final, she went straight up into the Hayward Field stands to see her family and embrace her grandmother.

"I'm highly grateful for [my family and my coach]," she said. "My family is my everything, my everything till the day I'm done."

SEE MORE: U.S. Trials: Sha'Carri Richardson wins 100m heat, advances

The Dallas native turned pro two years ago after a single season at LSU during which she broke the 100m collegiate record. In April, she ran 10.72 to become the sixth-fastest woman all-time at 100m.

The U.S. women last officially won 100m Olympic gold a quarter-century ago on home soil at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Gail Devers defended her title from Barcelona and extended a U.S. 100m gold streak to four straight Games. Marion Jones won the final at the next Olympics in Sydney, but her position was vacated and result disqualified after she admitted in 2007 to using PEDs.

SEE MORE: Mt. SAC: Richardson runs eye-popping 10.77 100m into wind

Before she made the 200m team, Jenna Prandini took fourth overall in the 100m final at trials in 11.11. When all is finalized she will presumably move up to third place behind initial second- and third-place finishers Javianne Oliver (10.99) and Teahna Daniels (11.03), making the 100m team as well.

Richardson's sanction lasts through July 28, more than a week before the Tokyo Olympic women's 4x100m relay rounds are scheduled to take place Aug. 5-6. It leaves open the possibility she could still, in theory, make the U.S. relay pool.

USADA's statement explicitly says Richardson's June 19 sample resulted in the disqualification of her results for that day – which included both the semis and final rounds of the 100m. That does not, however, include her first-round prelim, run the day before, and therefore means she still technically competed at the trials, officially beating 13 of the 28 others who recorded results.

When asked by NBC News' Savannah Guthrie if she had any hope to compete in the relay spot, Richardson said she'd be grateful for the opportunity, but also said she's trying to focus on healing herself.

"Right now I'm just putting all of my time and energy into dealing with what I need to do and to heal myself," she said. "If I'm allowed to receive that blessing then I'm grateful for it, but if not right now, I'm just gonna focus on myself."

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USATF's relay selection criteria state that the 4x100m relay pool consists of up to six athletes. World Athletics requires that the first four be the three athletes entered in the open, individual 100m — for the U.S., the top-three at trials — plus the alternate, most likely the fourth-place finisher. The next two athletes are in essence discretionary, selected by a committee. Typically it's the next fastest from the respective final.

"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," the process outline reads.

USADA said in its statement Friday that, "Beyond the one-month sanction, athlete eligibility for the Tokyo Games is determined by the USOPC and/or USA Track & Field eligibility rules."

SEE MORE: Gateshead DL: Asher-Smith wins stacked 100m in poor weather

Shelby Houlihan, American record-holder at both 1500m and 5000m, received a four-year ban a week before the start of trials after testing positive for the steroid nandrolone, then was denied by the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) an emergency injunction request to compete. She said the most likely source of the performance-enhancer was a burrito, and that she even passed a polygraph test and got her hair sampled by a top toxicologist.

Brianna McNeal, formerly Rollins, the reigning Olympic 100m hurdles champion, was handed a five-year ban two weeks before trials, accused of tampering with doping control measures, the details of which have yet to be released. But CAS subsequently decided to allow her to compete at trials, where she finished second and provisionally qualified for Tokyo. Her appeal's expected to be heard prior to the Games. She served a year-long ban in 2017 after missing drug tests. She hasn't tested positive for drugs.

Editor's note: McNeal's appeal was dismissed Friday by the CAS, meaning she's set to miss the next two Olympics; fourth-place finisher Gabbi Cunningham is now in line to make the Tokyo team

Christian Coleman, Richardson's equivalent on the men's side – the fastest U.S. male 100m sprinter since the 2016 Rio Games – was issued a two-year ban in October 2020 after missing three drug testing attempts within a one-year period. The reigning world champion appealed and got his ban reduced by 25% to 18 months, but it still ends three months after Tokyo. No. 6 all-time at 100m, Coleman never tested positive for drugs.

Kahmari Montgomery, the 2018 U.S. champion at 400m, was suspended a month after testing positive for cannabinoids in April. His ban ran out near the end of May; he competed at trials but failed to advance past the first round of the 400m, missing a semifinal qualifying spot by .05 seconds.