An American sprinter tipped to win a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics – starting three weeks today – has been suspended for a month after testing positive for a chemical found in cannabis.
Sha’Carri Richardson said she used the drug after hearing from a reporter that her biological mother had died – a week before Olympic trials were due to begin.
Hearing such intensely personal news from a “complete stranger was definitely triggering and shocking”, the athlete said, adding that it sent her into a “state of emotional panic”.
“Don’t judge me, because I am human,” she said.
The 21-year-old, from Dallas, tested positive at Olympic trials in Oregon – a state where cannabis is legal. One of the chemicals it contains, THC, is not allowed in her sport, however.
While cannabis is not thought to be performance enhancing, it is classified as a “substance of abuse”, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (ASADA) said, referring to a worldwide code.
Richardson’s winning 100m time of 10.86 seconds, set on 19 June, has now been erased.
The women’s event in Tokyo starts on 30 July, two days after her ban comes to an end.
She may, though, be able to take part in later relay events.
What could have been a three-month sanction was reduced to one because she agreed to participate in a counselling programme.
“The rules are clear, but this is heart-breaking on many levels,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said.
USA Track and Field said the “situation is incredibly unfortunate and devastating for everyone involved”.
Richardson found the news about her mother’s death “very heavy” but still had to “put on a face” and “go in front of the world”, she told NBC’s Today programme.
Despite being “‘blinded by emotion”, she said she needed to “put on a performance”.
She said during the interview that she had “failed” the community she represented, which had shown her “great support and great love”.
Saying she wants to be as “transparent as possible”, she added that all her energy at present is going into trying to “‘heal myself”.
And she urged others considering using cannabis to beware of the potential consequences and “find different ways to cope”.
To her fans and her family, she said: “I apologise if I’ve let you down – and I did.”
Richardson said the positive test would be “the last time” and the word “steroid” would “never be attached” to her name.
On a more positive note, she said that at the age of 21, she had “plenty” of Olympics left to compete in.