sports

A star sprinter smoked marijuana after her mother's death. It may have cost her the Olympics.

Sha'Carri Richardson is a star athlete in the making.

Just last month, the 21-year-old won the women's 100-metre final at the US track-and-field Olympic trials in Oregon, securing herself a spot on the American team for the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games. 

Running with flaming orange hair, thick eyelash extensions and long, colourful nails, Richardson ran the event in 10.86 seconds. After the race, she jogged up into the crowd to hug her grandmother.

She instantly became a gold-medal hopeful and a social media sensation.

"I just want the world to know that I’m that girl," she said in a viral interview after her semi-final.

Sha'Carri Richardson at the Olympic trials. Image: Getty.

During an interview a few days before the trials, a reporter informed Richardson that her biological mother had died. It came as a complete shock.

"To hear that information coming from a complete stranger, it was definitely triggering," Richardson told the Today show. "It was definitely nerve-shocking. It was just like, who are you to tell me that? No offence against him at all. He was just doing his job. But definitely that sent me into a state of mind, a state of emotional panic.

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"I still have to go out and put out a performance for my dream, go out there and still compete. From there, just blinded by emotions, just blinded by hurting, I knew I couldn’t hide myself. In some type of way, I was just trying to hide my pain."

Speaking to Today, Richardson said the news and the pressure to make the Olympic team led her to smoke marijuana, in the state of Oregon, where the drug is legal.

It is however banned under competition rules and on Friday morning (US time), the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) announced the positive test result and said Richardson has accepted a suspension of one month, starting on June 28. 

While this could still allow her to compete in the 4x100 meter relay at the Tokyo Games, Richardson will miss out on the 100-metre race.

"The rules are clear, but this is heartbreaking on many levels," USADA CEO Travis T. Tygart said in a statement.

"Hopefully, her acceptance of responsibility and apology will be an important example to us all that we can successfully overcome our regrettable decisions, despite the costly consequences of this one to her."

During her interview with Today, Richardson acknowledged her mistake.

"I want to take responsibility for my actions," she told Today. "I know what I did. I know what I’m supposed to do. I know what I’m allowed not to do. But I still made that decision. I’m not making an excuse."

"Like I tweeted yesterday, I'm human," she said. "We are human, I want to be as transparent as possible with you guys whether it's good, whether it's bad.

"But when it comes to Sha'Carri Richardson there will never be a steroid attached to the name Sha'Carri Richardson. The charge and what the situation was marijuana."

Since the announcement of her suspension, countless supporters have criticised the penalty.

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While marijuana is legal in various states across the United States, including in Oregon where Richardson smoked it, the substance remains prohibited "in competition" by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the International Olympic Committee-affiliated body that regulates drug use in global sport.

WADA has said that marijuana "can be performance-enhancing", pose risks and violates "the spirit of the sport". 

Richardson had hoped to become the first female American to win the race in the Olympics since 1996. However, it looks unlikely she will be able to make that dream a reality this year.

"This is just one Games," Richardson told Today. "I'm 21."

"Everything I do comes from me naturally; no steroids, no anything. This incident was about marijuana. After my sanction is up, I'll be back and every single time I step on that track I'll be ready for the Anti-Doping Agency to come and get whatever they need. 

"Because this will never happen [again]."

Feature image: Getty.

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