THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
The future is bright. Very bright in the case of Sha'Carri Richardson, and not just because of her recent change of hair color to a flame orange that dazzles and sparkles as she races down the track. However her immediate future has been disrupted, including her Olympic plans.
Richardson has been a real highlight in US Track and Field since bursting onto the scene less than four years ago. At the Olympic Trials she ran a 10.86 seconds 100 metres to win the trials and thereby qualified for the Tokyo games later this month. She has run the second-fastest time in the world this year, breaking a dominance by the Jamaican sprinters, led by Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who has a world leading time of 10.63. Richardson has been widely tipped for a medal place and maybe even an Olympic gold. The world seemed literally at her feet.
This past week all those plans were put on hold. Richardson tested positive for marijuana use. The standard ban for this is 30-days which would mean that she would miss out participating in the 100 metres in Tokyo, but possibly still be able to compete in the 4x100m relay. The test was taken after the trials, and the result surfacing this past Thursday. Her time at the trials was disqualified, leading to her not being able to compete at the highest level this summer.
But there is background to this story. A week before the trials her biological mother died, and Richardson coped with the loss by turning to the drug. It was during her interview after the trials qualification that she revealed the loss of her mother, and then praised her family, "Without them, there is no me. Without my grandmother there would be no Sha'Carri Richardson." The 21-year-old from Dallas, Texas was forthright in her response after the test result was made public. Using her own Twitter account she said, "The support my community I thank y'all, the negative forget y'all and enjoy the games because we all know it won't be the same" This was followed soon after with, "I'm sorry I can't be y'all Olympic Champ this year but I promise to be your World Champ next year."
So, as suggested, she has a bright future, with the World Championships in 2022 to be held in Eugene, Oregon. The same event the following year will be held in Budapest, Hungary. The Olympics in 2024 will be held in Paris. So, Richardson will be aiming to be the best she can be at those events. In the meantime, argument have been raised about her ban, especially for one that was for drug use that is not performance enhancing and was used at a time of grief. In fact, it even went further than that, with accusations of racism.
Clearly this was a breach of policy, and President Biden even said it was right for the International Olympic Committee to ban Richardson. "The rules are the rules, and everybody knows the rules when going in," Biden said, but also hinted that maybe they could be altered in the future. Even Hollywood had its say. Comedian and actor Seth Rogen, who openly smokes marijuana said, "It's insane that Team USA would disqualify one of its country's most talented athletes over thinking that's rooted in hatred. It's something they should be ashamed of. Also, if weed made you fast, I'd be FloJo!".
Maybe the most damning response though was from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic lawmaker also Tweeted her view: "The criminalization and banning of cannabis is an instrument of racist and colonial policy. The IOC should reconsider its suspension of Ms. Richardson and any athletes penalized for cannabis use."
For now though, the 100m event will be without one of its biggest stars, the story will rumble on, and the rules may be altered or at least reviewed. This does not help Richardson in the short term, and other athletes will have to learn from her mistake.
Richardson has apologized and told us that she's "only human," but with such a big event on the horizon she is also being told that she should have been more sensible.