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Sprinter's Olympic Hopes Go Up In Smoke

Starting blocks at starting line before race
CS Productions/Jupiterimages
Brand X
Starting blocks at starting line before race. Photo by tableatny via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Imagine you get a call from a friend who lives on one end of the I-95 corridor who needs something from you and in a hurry.

You rush out of your home and make tracks for their place going at a pretty good clip. Yeah, you’re over the speed limit, but traffic is light and you’re not hurting anyone.

You’re about to arrive at your destination proud when, in your rearview mirror, you see the bubble lights of a state trooper who nails you for speeding. Yes, you did wrong, but heck, everybody speeds and you were doing your buddy a solid.

That’s the story you’ll tell the judge later in the hopes that he or she will look the other way and let you off the hook.

That’s essentially what a lot of people want to see happen to American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, who saw her dream of running in the Tokyo Olympics this summer go up in smoke last Friday.

Richardson, the 21-year-old who burst onto the scene during last month’s U.S. team trials with blazing orange hair, indescribably long nails and a bubbly personality, was suspended for a month after she tested positive for marijuana use.

The suspension will cover the time when the 100-meter dash will be run during the Olympic Games, which begin later this month.

Richardson will not be able to get an individual medal in the 100, though she might be able to run as a member of the American 4 by 100-meter relay team, as her punishment was timed from June 28.

Richardson, the sixth-fastest woman to run the 100, famously fell into the arms of her grandmother after she qualified for the Olympics at the national meet in Eugene, Oregon.

It was a heart-rending moment, made even more so when word of her biological mother’s recent death became known. It was after Richardson was told of her mother’s passing by a reporter that she smoked marijuana, in part, she said, to help ease the pain.

Marijuana smoking remains forbidden territory for many and is illegal in many places.

Recreational use of pot has been legal in Oregon since 2015. So, Richardson did not break the law with her consumption.

However, she violated the stated and long-standing rules of both the United States and International Olympic Committees and thus, has to face the music.

If we want to have a long overdue conversation about the seemingly harmless use of recreational drugs by adults and athletes, by all means, let’s do it.

But, for the moment, until that discussion is held and resolved, all of us, including athletes, had better know and live by the rules that are in play.

Though many of her supporters have ascribed sexism and racism to her plight, Richardson has shrugged all that off.

She’s owned up to her indiscretion, saying, in an interview, quote I know what I’m not allowed to do. But I still made that decision. I’m not making an excuse unquote.

Sha’Carri Richardson had no intention of being the focal point for a debate on drug usage. She just wanted to run and hopefully, in 2024, in Paris, she’ll be able to do just that, albeit three years smarter and wiser.

And that’s how I see it for this week.

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Twitter: @SportsAtLarge

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.