She could have — make that should have — been a breakout star in an Olympics desperate for any kind of positive jolt. Sha'Carri Richardson has the look and she has the goods, and it wasn’t out of the question to picture her walking around Tokyo with a pair of gold medals draped around her neck.
That it won’t happen is as much Richardson’s fault as it is the doing of arcane doping rules. A few puffs of marijuana wouldn’t have helped her win the 100-meter race at the Tokyo Olympics, but they were enough to get her booted from the U.S. team even before it was officially named.
Was it fair? The answer likely depends on which prism you’re looking through when debating the use of marijuana. In Richardson’s case, it also involves considering the mindset of a 21-year-old who had just lost her biological mother and was on the verge of another life-changing event in the Olympics.
Clearly, she couldn’t have picked a worse time to smoke pot. The idea that she would jeopardize so much for so little is head-shaking at best — no matter how anyone feels about marijuana still being on the banned list on the Olympic stage.
Still, the price Richardson will end up paying will turn out to be outsized for doing what millions of Americans do legally every day. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime, especially because her only crime is that she violated doping rules that have nothing to do with upholding the integrity of her sport.
That means no gold medals. No prime-time television appearances, and no endorsement contracts bringing in millions of dollars.
Forget getting on a Wheaties box. Richardson won’t even get to the starting line in these Games, and she’ll have three long years to wait before another Olympics comes along.
Her plight is as sad as it was preventable. No one comes out a winner, and an Olympics already shaping up to a joyless exercise held under a state of emergency in Japan will miss the flamboyance of an American who likes to run with long fingernails and flowing orange hair.
It drew attention at the highest places, with the White House even taking notice.
“It does stink,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told CNN. “I don’t think there’s a better definition of it.”
Psaki then suggested the rules — which were already loosened several years ago — need to be tweaked even more to reflect the change in the world’s attitude toward marijuana.
By coincidence, they were in Nevada on Wednesday, when the Nevada Athletic Commission voted to continue to test boxers and MMA fighters for marijuana but not punish them in any way for using a drug that is legal in the state. Nevada has a long history of being the leader in setting rules for combat sports, making it likely that other states will follow.
“Marijuana is considered to be a substance of abuse and not a performance-enhancing drug,” said Bob Bennett, the commission’s executive director. “I think our goal is to test performance-enhancing drugs in an effort to ensure there’s a level playing field.”
Unfortunately for Richardson, things don’t move nearly as fast in the anti-doping world. And while her suspension is for only 30 days, that time period includes the days the 100 will be held in Tokyo.
Any chance she could have been added to the 4x100 U.S. relay team — which races after the suspension will be over — were erased Tuesday when USA Track & Field released a roster that did not include the sprinter. Putting her on the relay team sounded like a logical compromise, but it would have meant taking off one other runner who had already been promised a spot in the Olympics.
Almost lost in the outcry over Richardson’s suspension was the reaction of the runner herself. She showed remarkable grace beyond her years, appearing on NBC’s “Today” show not to argue that she should be put on the team but to explain that her mother’s recent death combined with the pressure of preparing for trials led her to use the drug on the eve of winning the 100 in the Olympic trials last month in Oregon.
Had she had a glass of wine instead, she would be packing her bags for Tokyo. It’s an irony not lost on marijuana advocates, though Richardson indicated she was already moving on.
“All these perfect people that know how to live life, I’m glad I’m not one of them!” she tweeted later, adding “2022-2025 undefeated!”
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg
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