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Sha’Carri Richardson will be missed in Olympics, but deserves credit for how she handled suspension

Track star will not be eligible to compete in her signature event at Summer Games

Sha’Carri Richardson after winning first heat of the semifinals in 100-meter run at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials.
Sha’Carri Richardson celebrates after winning the first heat of the semisfinals in women’s 100-meter run at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials Saturday, June 19, 2021, in Eugene, Ore.
Ashley Landis, Associated Press

Let’s give Sha’Carri Richardson credit for this: She owned her mistake. She owned her failed drug test.

She didn’t blame spiked toothpaste, a pork burrito, the Cuban mafia or an angry ex-boyfriend (as others have). She blamed … herself. Who does that these days? After it was made known that America’s spectacular young 100-meter dash champion had tested positive for cannabis (marijuana), she didn’t even bother to go into spin mode.

“I just want to take responsibility for my actions,” she said on the “Today” show last week. “I know what I did, I know what I’m supposed to do, (what) I’m allowed not to do, and I still made that decision. I’m not making an excuse or looking for any empathy in my case.”

Lance Armstrong has never owned his mistakes like that.

The failed test, which resulted in a 30-day suspension, means she will be unable to compete in the 100-meter dash at the Olympic Games later this month.

Richardson will be missed at the Games, and not because of the orange wigs and ridiculously long fake eyelashes. We will miss Richardson’s showdown with Jamaica’s spectacular Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce, the two-time defending champion, and we will miss seeing Richardson’s generational talent on the Olympic stage. Her sprint mechanics and top-end speed are a wonder (her start needs work).

Very predictably, the media is taking issue with the IOC’s inclusion of cannabis on its list of banned substances — Oh, the unfairness of it all. It’s archaic. That’s probably true, but IOC officials don’t care. It’s their Games, their rules. And Richardson, as she clearly stated, knew the rules and broke them anyway (she says she smoked marijuana to help her cope with the death of her biological mother a week before the Olympic trials).

“I apologize,” she said. “As much as I’m disappointed, I know that when I run track I represent a community. ... I apologize for the fact that I didn’t know how to control my emotions or deal with my emotions during that time. … I’m human, we’re human. ... I want to be as transparent as possible with you guys whether it’s good or it’s bad.”

Sha’Carri Richardson celebrates after winning the women’s 100-meter run at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials Saturday, June 19, 2021, in Eugene, Ore.
Charlie Riedel, Associated Press

Richardson has accepted the consequences. She didn’t bother mentioning that cannabis is legal in 36 states for medical uses, including Oregon, which is where she smoked it. Nor did she bother noting that cannabis is not a performance-enhancing drug — if anything it’s a performance-inhibiting drug — and wonder why it’s on the IOC’s banned list. Nor did she bother to offer up some of the absurd excuses that others have offered after flunking drug tests.

Richardson is the second American track star who has been busted recently by drug tests. Shelby Houlihan, a 2016 Olympian and the American record holder at 1,500 and 5,000 meters, was a favorite to win a medal, but she won’t compete in Tokyo. She tested positive for anabolic steroids.

Initially, she blamed it on a pork burrito. That might sound like the Worst Excuse Ever for a failed drug test, but there’s a lot of competition. Other athletes have blamed spiked toothpaste, spiked vitamins and a vengeful ex-wife, a water bottle switcheroo, bald-treatment medicine, “beer, sex and no sleep,” a contaminated iron supplement, the Cuban mafia, and a Chinese herbal remedy. All of those excuses were rejected by the IOC, probably accompanied by belly laughs.

Houlihan and Richardson face markedly different penalties. Because Houlihan took a performance-enhancing drug, she is banned from the sport for four years. Because cannabis does not improve performance, the penalty is usually only one to three months. Richardson has been suspended 30 days (until July 27), which means her eligibility would be restored too late for her to compete in the 100-meter dash. She would return in time to compete in the 4 x 100 relay, but USA Track has not yet announced its plans for the event.

Let’s hope she is put on the USA relay team. Given her performance in the Olympic trials and the gracious, responsible way she has handled the failed drug test, she deserves that much.