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American Sprinter Sha'Carri Richardson Is Suspended After Positive Marijuana Test

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

U.S. sprinter Sha'Carri Richardson was poised to be a breakout star at the Summer Olympics starting this month in Tokyo. But now a positive test for marijuana has disqualified her from one of the game's marquee events, the 100-meter race. This morning on NBC's "Today" show, Richardson says she is taking responsibility for the failed test.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TODAY")

SHA'CARRI RICHARDSON: 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.

CHANG: Joining me now is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Hey, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi.

CHANG: So what can you tell us about this positive test that she got?

GOLDMAN: Well, it happened at the track and field trials in Oregon last month. Sha'Carri Richardson - she's 21 - says she ingested pot after finding out her biological mother had died unexpectedly. And she said it sent her into a state of emotional panic. Now, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced today she's accepted a one-month ban, which started June 28. That's the minimum suspension allowed under the current rules. And she was given the minimum because the marijuana use was out of competition. It wasn't related to sport performance. And she completed a counseling program.

CHANG: OK, so one month from June 28. But the games aren't even a week in at that point, so why couldn't she still compete in the 100 meters?

GOLDMAN: Good question. You know, based on the calendar of events, she could. July 28 is when the ban would end. Track and field events start on the 30. But the positive test disqualified her from the 100 meters at the trials, which she won, which means she can't compete in that event at the Olympics. There is still a possibility, though, that USA Track and Field could choose her for the 4x100-meter relay team - no word on that yet.

CHANG: Will her being out of the 100 meters - like, how big of a deal is that?

GOLDMAN: Oh, it's a big deal. She had a good chance to win gold. Her showdown with the great Jamaican sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce - that was already being hyped. The 100-meter athletes are often flamboyant, Ailsa, matching their glamour event, and Richardson certainly is that. At the trials, you couldn't miss her with her long, orange hair...

CHANG: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: ...And huge false eyelashes. Along with gymnast Simone Biles and swimmer Katie Ledecky, she was going to be one of the most publicized athletes in Tokyo.

CHANG: It's too bad. What have been the reactions to the news today?

GOLDMAN: Disappointment and anger, best captured in a tweet by star NFL quarterback Patrick Mahomes. And I'm quoting here. "This is so trash, man. Just let her run." There's a widespread feeling that since marijuana has been so normalized and since it's legal in nearly 20 states, why punish someone for it?

This country's top anti-doping sheriff, Travis Tygart - he's the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO. He acknowledged the sanction is a tough one. He called it heartbreaking. But as he also said, the rules are clear. The World Anti-Doping Agency classifies marijuana as a substance of abuse. It's on the prohibited list because it meets some or all of the following criteria. It poses a health risk to athletes, has the potential to enhance performance and violates the spirit of sport. So like it or not, that's the rule. And Sha'Carri Richardson got caught up in it.

CHANG: That's the rule. That's NPR's Tom Goldman. Thank you, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF ULRIKA SPACEK SONG, "MIMI PRETEND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.