This year’s Tokyo Olympics will look unlike any Games to date. On Thursday, Japan declared a state of emergency due to the recent rise in cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant, according to The New York Times. Officials are especially concerned given the country’s low vaccination rates; only about a quarter of the population has received at least one shot. The International Olympic Committee subsequently announced that spectators will not be allowed at most events, which begin two weeks from today.
More than 11,000 athletes are set to travel to Tokyo for the Games, along with thousands of officials and staff members. Missing from that group, however, is the fastest woman in America.
21-year-old sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson won the women’s 100-meter final at the U.S. track and field trials in June, but her first-place finish was nullified within days after she tested positive for the cannabis chemical THC. As a result, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) imposed a 30-day suspension, making her ineligible for the 100-meter race in Tokyo this month. Any hope of Richardson running in a later relay event vanished this week when the U.S. Track and Field team released their roster and her name did not appear.
Richardson has apologized and explained that she consumed marijuana after hearing of her biological mother’s unexpected death from a reporter prior to the race. But neither an apology nor an explanation should have ever been asked of Richardson. After all, Oregon – where the trials took place and the suspension was imposed – is among 18 states that have legalized marijuana, begging the question whether the substance should remain on a list of prohibited performance-enhancing drugs, when it is not one, according to Slate.
Cannabis has never been shown to increase speed, strength, or endurance, but it has nonetheless cost the country’s fastest woman her first shot at the Olympics.
“The support, my community I thank y’all … the negative forget y’all … enjoy the games because we all know it won’t be the same,” Sha’Carri tweeted on July 4. “I’m sorry, I can’t be y’all Olympic Champ this year but I promise I’ll be your World Champ next year.”
Richardson is looking ahead with characteristic resilience and drive, and many have rallied behind her. Among those to have criticized the International Olympic Committee are fellow athletes such as Dwane Wade, Megan Rapinoe, and Patrick Mahomes, as well as U.S. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Jamaal Bowman. Ocasio-Cortez took to Twitter to describe Richardson’s suspension as “rooted solely in the systemic racism that’s long driven anti-marijuana laws.”
Sha’Carri Richardson’s treatment is but one example of the trials Black athletes endure. Wear Your Voice Magazine cited the instance when 2018 French Open president banned Serena Williams’s outfit as disrespectful, saying it had gone “too far.” The “catsuit” had been designed to prevent blood clots, which Williams had suffered from after giving birth to her daughter.
In June, U.S. hammer thrower Gwen Berry faced harsh criticism for protesting the national anthem on the podium at the Olympic trials. And last week, the International Swimming Federation announced that they will bar caps designed for natural Black hair from Olympic competition because they do not “follow the natural form of the head,” according to the BBC. Soul Cap, the Black-owned British brand that submitted the cap for official certification, is not allowed to appeal the decision.