The only rational justification for suspending world-class sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson from official competition as the result of a positive test for a widely legal drug with no real performance-enhancing qualities was this: Rules are rules. The rule against marijuana use is in the books, and she never tried to blame her violation on the person administering the test, or some tainted meal, or a supplement that failed to list THC among its ingredients.
“I know what I did. I know what I’m supposed to do, I know what I’m allowed not to do and still made that decision,” she told NBC News. “I’m not making any excuses.”
She did it. She will serve her punishment.
Which is, by statute: 30 days away from competition.
With the suspension commencing June 28, its conclusion will not arrive until after the early rounds of the women’s 100-meter dash are completed, wrecking her dreams of claiming a gold medal in the event she dominated at the U.S. Olympic Trials. However, the extension of that race into a team competition, the 4×100-meter relay, does not commence until Aug. 5, after Richardson’s suspension lapses.
Richardson will not run, however, because USA Track & Field chose not to include her on the Olympic team, a decision announced Tuesday. So the lesson here is: Rules are rules and penalties are penalties, unless we decide to make them even more severe to make ourselves feel more imperial.
The second-worst part of USATF’s indefensible decision is the organization tried to placate critics of the World Anti-Doping Agency rule against marijuana – and they are legion, with nearly half a million signatures on the “Let Sha’Carri Run” petition – by claiming to be sympathetic to the cause.
The official statement: “While USATF fully agrees that the merit of the World Anti-Doping Agency rules related to THC should be reevaluated, it would be detrimental to the integrity of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track & Field if USATF amended its policies following the competition, only weeks before the Olympic Games.”
So what they’re saying is, Richardson’s 10.84 time in the trials last month in Eugene is no more; it was illicitly “enhanced” by a drug that, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a division of the NIH, has effects that include “impaired body movement”, “difficulty with thinking and problem solving” and “altered sense of time.”
Does any of that sound like it’s going to get a sprinter out of the blocks quicker?
It’s not like Richardson’s Olympic Trials performance was an outlier. She ran the sixth-fastest time in history, 10.72, at an April meet in Miami. Her trials time would have ranked in the top 40 all-time. In that race, she finished a yard ahead of the nearest competitor, Javianne Oliver, and more than 3/10 of a second ahead of the seventh-place finisher, Aleia Hobbs.
Her race at the Trials was not some freak occurrence. She’s the best the U.S. has, by far. So that’s the worst part about her omission. USATF had some discretion here. Its charge is to fairly establish the best possible team for the Olympics. There would have been more than sufficient justification for including her.
The U.S. has won the past two golds in the women’s 4×100 relay, but those were the only two wins this century. Victory is not a given. Richardson, 21, would have been both fresh and motivated if selected to participate in the relay. It would have been her one chance to claim a gold medal in an Olympics where she was positioned to star, an opportunity at redemption she almost certainly would have seized.
Instead, she will watch, if she chooses, on television with the rest of the world, the victim of a dopey policy that ought to go up in smoke.