American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, who was set to be a breakout star at the Olympic Games later this month, has tested positive for marijuana, putting her participation in the Tokyo games in doubt. The 21-year-old, sporting bright orange hair and an electric personality, roared to victory in the women’s 100-meter sprint at the U.S. Olympic trials, making her a fan favorite as well as a favorite to win gold. The positive test taken at the trials last month means Richardson will likely face a competition ban of some length; the sanction for a positive test for marijuana can range from a maximum penalty of a two-year ban down to a minimum of one month depending on the nature of the infraction.
THC, the main psychoactive substance in marijuana, is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency during in-competition periods, a timeframe that technically begins at 11:59 p.m. the day before the competition starts. Under world anti-doping rules, athletes are allowed to have up to 150 nanograms per milliliter of THC without causing a positive test.The U.S. anti-doping and Olympic bodies are signatories to the WADA rules, meaning they follow and enforce their laws. Penalties are lowered in instances where the drug violation is not considered performance enhancing, which will likely be argued in Richardson’s case.
The sport’s national governing body, USA Track & Field, also has some discretion over when the ban would start and it could be retroactively imposed from the date of Richardson’s positive test at the trials. Richardson qualified for the Olympic team with her performance on June 19; the test was reportedly conducted several days later, such that a one-month suspension from the time of the infraction would make Richardson eligible again on July 23, the day the Tokyo Games open. The track and field events do not begin until July 30.
It’s unclear if Richardson will appeal the result. Even if given a one-month ban from the date of the positive test, meaning she was reinstated ahead of her Olympic event, as things currently stand, Richardson would not be eligible for the 100-meter individual race but could conceivably be included in the 4-x-100-meter relay team. Richardson’s positive test automatically nullifies her qualifying time at the trials, which is required to make the U.S. team. “Unlike the Olympic selection processes of some other countries, U.S.A. Track & Field’s procedures leave little room for discretion over who qualifies,” according to the New York Times. “They dictate that the top three finishers in a given event at the trials qualify for the Olympics, provided their performances reach the Olympic standard.”
USA Track & Field has reportedly informed other runners that they have been moved up due to the disqualification; fourth place finisher Jenna Prandini has been told she will now be one of the three runners to represent the U.S. at the Olympics and fifth place Gabby Thomas has now been designated an alternate. The national track and field body does have some discretion in selecting the six-person relay team pool for the 4-x-100-meter event, four of whom race in the actual event. The four top finishers at the trials are automatically part of the team, but the final two slots are selected by USA Track & Field, which, depending on the length and timing of her suspension, could still include Richardson.
For more on the Olympic controversy surrounding Gwen Berry’s protest at the trials, listen to this episode of A Word.