Sha’Carri Richardson has apologized after testing positive for THC, the psychoactive chemical found in marijuana. The record-breaking sprinter had qualified for the Olympic Games in Tokyo with a come-from-behind win at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in the 100m qualifier on June 19. She’s now under a 30-day ban from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and suspended from the Olympic track team.
Richardson ran a 10.86 seconds at the qualifier and went viral with her emotional trek into the stands to hug her grandmother—since she ran the race after learning her biological mother had died.
She spoke out about her use of the banned substance on NBC’s Today show: “I apologize. As much as I’m disappointed I know that when I step on the track I represent not only myself, I represent a community that has shown great support, great love…I apologize for the fact that I didn’t know how to control my emotions or deal with my emotions during that time.”
This isn’t the first time an Olympian’s turned to weed as a form of stress release. Michael Phelps openly admitted to struggled with depression; he was suspended in 2009 after pictures were released of the swimmer smoking from a bong.
“We all have our different struggles, we all have our different things we deal with, but to put on a face and have to go out in front of the world and put on a face and hide my pain,” Richardson said. “Who are you? 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’ve never experienced before or that you never thought you’d have to deal with. Who am I to tell you how to cope? Who am I to tell you you’re wrong for hurting?”
Though recreational use of marijuana is now fully legal in 18 states in the U.S.—and Richardson took the drug in Oregon, where it’s legal—it’s still considered a banned substance. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is required to adhere to the policies from the World Anti-Doping Agency, which prohibits its use among athletes.
“The rules are clear, but this is heartbreaking on many levels; 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,” said USADA CEO Travis T. Tygart.
Though Richardson will not be able to compete in the women’s 100m race at the Olympics, there’s a chance she could be selected to run either of the women’s relay events. Six qualified athletes may be entered in each relay pool for the 4x100m or 4x400m races, and according to the rules, four must be entered in individual races, but two other athletes may be selected, leaving an opening for the sprinter.
In the Today interview Richardson said she would be “grateful” for the ability to run in the relay and represent the U.S., but it’s not her main priority. “Right now, I’m just putting all of my time and energy into dealing with what I need to do, which is heal myself,” she said. “So if I’m allowed to receive that blessing, then I’m grateful for it, but if not, right now I’m going to just focus on myself.”
This will hopefully be a catalyst for greater communication and resources for athletes—especially at the pro and Olympic level—to have greater support for mental health and wellbeing. As marijuana continues to become more widely accepted and devilified, it might not even be on the list of banned substances when the next Games roll around.
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