Suspended sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson will not be part of the U.S. Olympic team in Tokyo after USA Track & Field announced its pool of runners for the 4-x-100 women’s relay Tuesday. The 21-year-old, who won the 100-meter event at the U.S. Olympic trials, was left off the relay team, ending hopes she would be included even after testing positive for marijuana. Richardson shot to stardom with her shock of orange hair and exuberance and looked set for a global star turn at the Tokyo Games before testing positive for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, at the trials. Richardson took full ownership of the positive test, saying she had used marijuana to cope with grief from the death of her biological mother, something she had only learned recently from a reporter questioning her about the death.
The positive test, the circumstances around Richardson’s use, and the country’s rapidly evolving mores about marijuana use ignited a public debate about the appropriateness of banning an athlete for using something that was not only legal in the state she was in, but not even a performance-enhancing substance. THC is banned by the U.S. anti-doping body because it was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. The selection process for the U.S. Olympic team is pretty set in stone and determined by the results of the trials such that, even with the minimum 30-day suspension, Richardson was not going to be able to run the sprint at the games because the positive drug test automatically nullified her 100-meter qualifying time. But there was some hope of finding a middle ground in the form of the track and field governing body selecting Richardson to participate as part of the 4x100-meter relay team, which allows for more discretion in composing the six-member squad.
USA Track & Field nixed that possibility, even though Richardson’s suspension would technically be lifted in time for the event, which is in the latter portion of the games. The body said it was sympathetic to Richardson’s circumstances and agreed that THC’s presence on the banned substance list should be reevaluated, but ultimately it came down to a question of fairness to the other competitors. “It would be detrimental to the integrity of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track & Field if USATF amended its policies following competition, only weeks before the Olympic Games,” a USATF statement read. “All USATF athletes are equally aware of and must adhere to the current anti-doping code, and our credibility as the National Governing Body would be lost if rules were only enforced under certain circumstances.”