Sha’Carri Richardson will miss the Tokyo Olympics after USA Track & Field announced Tuesday that she has not been selected as a member of the 4×100 relay team.
The organization said in a statement that while it has sympathy for Richardson, who is serving a one-month suspension after testing positive for marijuana at the U.S. Olympic trials last month, it also has a responsibility to “maintain fairness for all of the athletes.”
“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 competition, only weeks before the Olympic Games,” the organization said in the statement.
“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.”
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced Friday that Richardson, 21, had been suspended for marijuana, which is a banned substance under WADA’s anti-doping code. She said on NBC’s “Today” show that she used the drug after learning from a reporter that her biological mother had died, as a means of coping with the pain.
The suspension ensured that Richardson would not be able to run her primary event, the 100-meter dash, at the Tokyo Olympics. But the timing of the ban left open the possibility that she could still compete for a medal in the 4×100 relay, which will take place after her suspension is over.
Tuesday’s announcement effectively shut that door.
Under the rules of World Athletics, which is the international federation that governs track and field, countries are allowed to bring a pool of six athletes to the Olympics for each relay event – including the women’s 4×100. The top-four finishers in each individual race at the Olympic trials must be included in that pool, by rule. The last two spots are discretionary, meaning that USATF staff – led by the head relay coach – could pick who they wanted to round out the team.
Richardson would have automatically qualified for the team with her first-place finish in the 100 at the Olympic trials, but that performance was invalidated due to the failed drug test. So she would have needed USATF staff to award her one of the two discretionary spots, which instead went to the next highest finishers from trials: English Gardner and Aleia Hobbs.
A USATF spokesperson told USA TODAY Sports that those two discretionary spots had been confirmed with Gardner and Hobbs before Richardson accepted a reduced one-month suspension. (The original sanction for her offense was a three-month suspension.) So adding Richardson to the team, according to USATF, would have essentially required removing someone else.
Richardson is now one of several marquee names from Team USA who will be absent in Tokyo, alongside sprinter Christian Coleman – who is serving a suspension for whereabouts violations – and distance runner Shelby Houlihan, who has been suspended after testing positive for an anabolic steroid that she believes came from a burrito.
Richardson, a Dallas native who won a national title at LSU, had been favored to win at least one medal in Tokyo this summer. Her suspension for marijuana use came as a shock in the world of track and field, a little less than three weeks before the opening ceremony in Tokyo. And it quickly became a major story outside of the sport, too.
Celebrities and casual fans wondered why marijuana is punished like a performance-enhancing substance, and even President Joe Biden was asked if he thought Richardson’s punishment was fair.
Richardson, for her part, admitted to ingesting marijuana before the Olympic trials.
“I want to take responsibility for my actions,” she said in an interview on NBC. “I know what I did. I know what I’m supposed to do. I know what I’m allowed not to do, and I still made that decision.”
Richardson will now aim to make her Olympic debut at the 2024 Summer Games in Paris. She also figures to be a threat to win her first world title at the 2022 World Championships in Eugene, Oregon next year.
“I’m sorry, I can’t be y’all Olympic Champ this year,” she wrote on Twitter on Sunday, “but I promise I’ll be your World Champ next year.”