Sha’carri Richardson scandal highlights racism in Olympic Games

Dani Wallace

15-year-old Olympic Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva competed under accusations of using banned substances. The circumstances of the case raised several accusations from American sprinter Sha’carri Richardson about racial bias within the Olympic drug testing system.

Richardson, a U.S. sprinter, was a favorite going into the qualifying races for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. That quickly fell through when Richardson tested positive for Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical responsible for the psychological effects in marijuana, via urine sample after her win over Javianne Oliver in the 2020 United States qualifiers. 

Richardson accepted a month-long suspension from the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) after completing a counseling program. This set her date for return to be July 27, 2021, meaning Richardson would be ineligible for her main event, the 100 meter sprint. Richardson could have been selected post-suspension for the women’s 4 x 100 relay that took place August 5. However Richardson wasn’t selected and didn’t participate in the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Richardson was public about her use of marijuana, stating to multiple news sources that the drug was a coping mechanism she used after her biological mother’s death a few days prior to her race at the qualifiers. The use of recreational marijuana is legal in Oregon, the state Richardson admitted to smoking marijuana, making Richardson’s use of marijuana legal and not a criminal offense.

A similar scandal arose with 15-year-old figure skater Kamila Valieva who was shining throughout the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

News outlets shared that a urine sample forwarded from December showed that Valieva tested positive for trimetazidine and was put on provisional suspension. Trimetazidine is a drug that increases the heart’s ability to use oxygen and is banned from by the Olympic Committee due to its performance enhancing abilities. The use of a urine sample from long ago was being questioned, but the fact that the drug was there was undeniable. 

Valieva claims that her grandfather takes the drug and to have possibly been contaminated with it. Despite the result, Valieva was allowed to participate in her next event. 

On February 15, after placing first in the women’s short program, the same urine test was reported to have traces of hypoxen and L-carnitine. The combination is believed to have a similar oxygen-efficient usage effect to Trimetazidine when used together.

There is a rule that any minor under the age of 16 is not allowed to be held accountable for their drug test results directly, so Valieva was allowed to continue competing and was not stripped of her gold for the women’s team division. 

Sha’carri Richardson was quick to call out the double standard of these situations. Marijuana, a non-performance enhancing drug, stopped her from even participating, while Valieva was found to have three drugs with some performance enhancing abilities and was still allowed to compete. Richardson infamously tweeted, “Can we get a solid answer on the difference of her situation and mines? My mother died and I can’t run and was also favored to place top 3. The only difference I see is I’m a Black young lady.”

Richardson isn’t wrong. Marijuana laws have been found to tie into an astonishing amount of racially based statistics; as the Marjiuana Policy Project (MPP) finds that African American and Latinx people are unproportionally affected by marijuana laws in comparison to white counterparts in the United States. For the case of Sha’carri Richardson, she was the victim of such rules because marijuana isn’t viewed as performance enhancing, while Valieva broke harsher rules and continued to participate.