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Sunday, October 24, 2021

Explained: How marijuana prevented a 100 metre duel for the ages

American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson has accepted a one-month ban after failing a dope test. Will she miss the Tokyo Olympics? How fast is she?

Written by Nihal Koshie | New Delhi |
Updated: July 8, 2021 2:17:47 pm
Sha'Carri RIchardson tested positive for cannabis after she won the 100m at the US trials last month (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

American Sha’Carri Richardson, 21, was set to emerge as a star at the Tokyo Olympics. Her showdown with the world champion, 34-year-old Jamaican Shelly Ann-Frazer Pryce, was to be one for the ages. However, the highly-anticipated race won’t happen now as Richardson, who won the US Track and Field Trials last month, accepted a one-month ban after failing a dope test. Not for one of the notorious anabolic steroids but for marijuana or weed/pot, a commonly used recreational drug.

So an athlete using marijuana can result in a ban under the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code?

Yes, smoking up is not advisable.

Natural and synthetic compounds of the marijuana plant are prohibited in-competition.

There are different kinds of cannabinoids, or the compounds, according to the WADA website, and of these delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive compound ‘which alters the mind or behaviour’. An athlete can get away if he or she has below 150 nanograms per millilitre (ng/ml ) of THC in urine.

However, there is an exception to the marijuana rule.

Cannabidiol (CBD), a compound used for medical marijuana, was removed from the prohibited list by WADA in 2019. Cannabidiol does not give a high like THC and has anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxant properties. But WADA also warns athletes from using CBD as an oil as ‘it may also contain THC and other cannabinoids that could result in a positive test for a prohibited cannabinoid’.

Is marijuana performance-enhancing?

There has been a debate over how much it helps an athlete. According to a paper ‘Cannabis in Sport’ published in 2011 by WADA, it can lead to ‘increased risk-taking, slower reaction times and poor executive function or decision making.’

However, the paper also states that athletes have said that under the influence of cannabis, ‘their thoughts flow more easily and their decision-making and creativity is enhanced’ Cannabis, athletes claim, improves their concentration or reduces pain. Gymnasts, divers, football players and basketball players have claimed cannabis helps them focus better.

Depending on the nature of the compound and the potency, it can take up to months to wash out marijuana from the system.

Did Richardson give reasons for testing positive for marijuana?

Immediately after the news broke, Richardson put out a tweet: ‘I am human’. In a subsequent interview to the Today Show, the sprinter said news of her mother’s death, a week before the trials, had put her in a ‘state of emotional panic’. She was raised by her grandmother.

“I know what I did, I know what I’m supposed to do… and I still made that decision… I’m not making an excuse or looking for any empathy in my case, but, however, being in that position in my life, finding out something like that, something that I would say is probably one of the biggest things that have impacted me…”

In another interview to NBC, she appealed for understanding: “I just say, don’t judge me and I am human. I’m you, I just happen to run a little faster.”

So, how fast is Richardson?

In April, she ran 10.72 seconds in Florida, the sixth-fastest time ever in women’s 100 metres. In the semifinals of the US trials in June, she ran a wind-assisted 10.64 metres, which – if legal – would have been the third-best time ever. However, her 10.72 is the second-fastest of the year behind Fraser-Pryce’s 10.63. Richardson and Fraser-Pryce were to make it a historic women’s 100 metre final with Florence Griffith-Joyner’s world record of 10.49, set in 1988, under threat.

Richardson burst onto the scene in 2019 at the NCAA Championships in Austin, where she broke the world U20 100m and 200m records.

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Will Richardson miss the Tokyo Olympics?

Her one-month ban is back-dated to June 28, which means she could have participated in the 100 metres heats on July 30 if not for USA Track and Field’s long-standing selection criteria.

The top-three at the trials go to the Games. According to The New York Times, Jenna Prandini, the fourth-placed finisher at the trials, will now be upgraded. Gabby Thomas, placed fifth at the trials, will be on standby.

However, Richardson could be part of the 4×100 metre relay team comprising six athletes, the top-four from the 100m trials and two additions usually picked by officials.

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