Sha’Carri Richardson’s Olympic ban as a result of a failed drug test, and her admission that she used cannabis to cope with her mother’s death, has prompted an uproar on social media.
On Thursday, news broke that Ms Richardson had tested positive for a chemical found in cannabis at the US Olympic trials last month, prompting a 30-day suspension of the athlete.
The sprinter won the 100m in June and after completing it in 10.86 seconds but has since been prohibited from competing in that race due to the failed drugs test.
The unforeseen news has caused a stir on social media, with a number of people jumping to Ms Richardson’s defence, saying the penalty was unwarranted.
“This is unfair and insane. And it’s not like marijuana is making you faster,” Ben Rhodes, former national security advisor during the Obama administration, wrote on Twitter.
“Pretty convinced that marijuana is not a ‘performance enhancing’ drug for a sprinter. Please let Sha’Carri Richardson run in Tokyo,” Nicholas Thompson, CEO of The Atlantic, said.
Ms Richardson could have been handed a three-month sanction for detection of the drug but this has been reduced to one month because she participated in a counselling programme.
“Marijuana is NOT a performance enhancing drug. Any athlete that’s had a beer or celebrated with champagne knows the difference between cheating and relaxing,” Pennsylvania State Representative Brian Sims commented.
Some took a more light-hearted approach in their defence of the sprinter. “If the Olympics think marijuana is a performance enhancing drug then a cup of coffee is a Schedule 2 narcotic,” user Andy Isaac said.
“Sha’Carri Richardson is the first Olympian to be barred from competing for using a performance diminishing drug,” writer Bess Kalb joked.
Ms Richardson apologised to her fans during an appearance on the Today show on Friday, explaining that she used the drug after finding out from a reporter that her biological mother had died days before the race.
“I was definitely triggered and blinded by emotions, blinded by badness, and hurting, and hiding hurt,” Ms Richardson told the broadcaster.
“Don’t judge me, because I am human ... I just happen to run a little faster,” she added, reinforcing a statement she posted on Twitter on Thursday that read “I am human”.
Some users said the suspension was a political issue, pointing out that cannabis is legal in Oregon where Ms Richardson used the drug and arguing that such recreational use should be destigmatised.
“There is no need for Sha’Carri to apologise. We need to get rid of archaic rules for a substance that is fully legal in 19 states plus DC,” New York representative Jamaal Bowman said. “And we need to legalise it at the federal level.”
“No one should be in jail for smoking marijuana. No one should lose their job (or have a criminal record) for having smoked it,” former Ohio state senator, Nina Turner wrote.
She added: “AND no one should ever be banned from athletic competition bc of it. End the stigma. Legalise it. Restore communities that have been damaged.”
Ms Richardson said she intended to keep running and that she had “plenty of games left in [her]” and that when her sanction was up she would be returning to compete.
She may yet be able to compete in the women’s relay on 6 August when her sanction has ended, however, USA Track and Field has not disclosed plans for the race.
Cannabis is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada). It is not yet clear if the athlete will appeal the drug test results.
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