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U.S. Sprinter Sha'Carri Richardson Left Off Relay List, Won't Compete At Olympics


The fastest female sprinter in the U.S. will not be going to the Olympic Games in Tokyo this month. USA Track & Field today announced its roster for the games, and it did not include 21-year-old sensation Sha'Carri Richardson. She won the 100 meters at last month's Olympic trials but then was disqualified after a positive test for a chemical found in marijuana. Before this evening, there had still been a chance she could be named to a relay team, but that didn't happen. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us now. Hi, Tom.


SHAPIRO: Did USA Track & Field explain its decision to leave Richardson off the team?

GOLDMAN: It did. USATF released a statement regarding the women's 4x100-meter relay selection, which, as you mentioned, did not include Sha'Carri Richardson. And I'll paraphrase here. They say they're incredibly sympathetic to Richardson's circumstances, but it would be detrimental to the integrity of the track and field trials if USA Track & Field amended its policies only weeks before the Olympics. The statement added, (reading) our credibility as a national governing body would be lost if rules were only enforced under certain circumstances. We must maintain fairness for all the athletes who secured a place on the team.

SHAPIRO: Remind us about what the circumstances were surrounding this. What happened at the track and field trials in Oregon last month?

GOLDMAN: Right. Well, what first happened was she dazzled, winning the 100 meters at the trials - her speed, her flamboyance, her long, flowing, orange hair and big fake eyelashes. She made a big statement and ensured that she would be a big story at the Tokyo Olympics. But then the positive test - she said she used marijuana after learning her biological mother had died unexpectedly. She said the news put her in a state of emotional panic. She said she knew it was against the rules. She apologized for doing it. She accepted a one-month ban and accepted publicly, at least, the fact that she wouldn't challenge for the 100-meter title in Tokyo.

SHAPIRO: There was a huge outcry about her being punished for marijuana use. As more states have legalized marijuana, it's becoming more normalized in the U.S. and other countries. Is there any chance the rules are going to change?

GOLDMAN: Well, yeah. Well, first, let me tell you about that outcry. A moveon.org petition, Let Sha'Carri Run, raised over a half-million signatures. Lawmakers, other athletes, entertainers - they all spoke out against her ban and against the rule that led to it. Now, the World Anti-Doping Agency currently calls marijuana a substance of abuse and says studies do show it has the potential to enhance an athlete's performance. But as you say, as marijuana has become more normalized, many states have legalized its medicinal and recreational use. Sports leagues in this country have either stopped testing for it or relaxed the rules.

An Olympic official I spoke to today said the World Anti-Doping Agency certainly could do that and might in the face of the uproar but not now. In fact, in its statement today, USA Track & Field said it fully agrees that the merit of the World Anti-Doping Agency rules related to THC should be evaluated. But for now, Gabby Thomas, a neurobiology major from Harvard who qualified for the Olympic team in the 200 meters - she was named as the fourth member of the 4x100-meter relay team, not Sha'Carri Richardson.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Thanks, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.